Date: June 12, 2003
Contact: Dan Evans
Phone: (325) 373-6441
Space-Age Technology Lets Researchers Monitor Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Like something out of the incredible adventure in Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios film, “Finding Nemo”, giant leatherback sea turtles are set to embark on their annual migrations from remote Caribbean beaches to distant feeding grounds. Using sophisticated satellite technology, researchers with the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) will be tracking the mysterious migrations of several of these leatherbacks, and anyone with access to the Internet can follow along to watch where these fascinating creatures travel.
From June 5-9, 2003 CCC researchers in cooperation with Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, will attached satellite transmitters to the backs of “critically endangered” leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) after they nest on the Caribbean beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. The study will reveal important information about the turtles’ migratory behavior, which will help both conservationists and natural resource managers improve protection efforts for this endangered species. Migration data collected over the next year will be posted on maps available for free to the public on CCC’s website. CCC, based in Gainesville, Florida, operates a sea turtle and biological research facility on the remote beaches of Tortuguero, one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in the world.
“With the national frenzy over sea turtles caused by “Finding Nemo”, we figured kids would be thrilled with the opportunity to track the migrations of real turtles as they embark on their ocean odyssey,” said CCC Executive Director David Godfrey. “Our Internet-based sea turtle education Program is very popular with school-age kids and it receives financial support from Disney’s Wildlife Conservation Fund.”
Since the mid-1950s, CCC has been conducting annual green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) research and protection efforts at Tortuguero, making it one of the longest running conservation Programs in history. In the mid-1990s, aware of the tragic decline of Pacific leatherback sea turtle populations, CCC initiated a leatherback monitoring and protection Program at it’s Tortuguero research station. CCC researchers have since learned that the Atlantic leatherback population nesting from Costa Rica down to Panama now represents the third or fourth largest in the world. Very little is known about where these highly-migratory turtles go once they leave their nesting beaches. However, this year cutting-edge satellite technology will be used to gather live data on migratory routes and behavior. This information should prove to be invaluable in future efforts at developing international conservation strategies to protect this unique and vulnerable species.
CCC researchers will attach small satellite transmitters to the turtles before they return to the water. A signal will be sent from the transmitter on the turtles’ backs to orbiting satellites each time the turtles surface to breath. The data is beamed back to Earth, where researchers use the information to plot the turtles’ movements on maps that are posted for free on the CCC website. This allows interested people all over the world to watch along as researchers discover where the giant leatherback turtles of Tortuguero travel after they leave their nesting beach in Costa Rica.
“This state-of-the-art technology will help us learn more about a species that has existed for at least 150 million years, and because of man, is now on the edge of extinction in many areas of the world,” said Godfrey. “Because of the dramatic decline of leatherbacks worldwide, our research and conservation efforts in Costa Rica are becoming increasingly important. Information collected through this study will help us and others develop conservation strategies to ensure their long term survival.”
The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival.
Through STC’s Internet-based Sea Turtle Migration-Tracking Education Program, anyone with Internet access can follow the migratory wanderings of the Tortuguero leatherbacks from their homes. The education Program is designed to teach people about sea turtles and the threats to their survival by following the movements of these giant creatures as they migrate from tropical nesting beaches to feeding grounds located hundreds or thousands of miles away. Though popular with the general public, the Program is also designed for use in a classroom setting. Teachers are invited to register on-line to receive STC’s free Sea Turtle Educator’s Guide, which includes useful background information, student worksheets and classroom activities. For more information, visit the STC website at www.conserveturtles.org or call (352) 373-6441.