Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Great News For Leatherbacks!

Mom is crazy about sea turtles and one of her favorite species is the leatherback. Yesterday there was some really good news about them and when I told Mom about it she did her happy dance. Hooray!

The world's largest nesting population of leatherbacks has been identified in Gabon, Africa. Researchers took land and aerial surveys during three nesting seasons between 2002 and 2007 and their findings indicate a population between 15,730 and 41,373 female leatherbacks use the nesting beaches. Wow! That's a lot of leatherbacks. Mom would be in leatherback heaven!

Aerial surveys are not easy to do, especially along a 372 mile coast like that of Gabon. The scientists used video to evaluate populations, in addition to ground based monitoring - good old school walking the beach. Mom loves walking the beach looking for sea turtles, so they should have asked her to help them.

In addition to estimating the number of nest and nesting females, researchers were also able to identify key sites for leatherback nesting. Why is this important? This data is crucial in developing conservation management plans for leatherbacks so without this data, no plans and probably no leatherbacks.

Prior to the surveys, researchers knew that Gabon was an important nesting site for leatherbacks but they had no idea how many leatherbacks used the sites The surveys also revealed that 79% of the nests occurred within National Parks and other protected areas. This just goes to show that protected areas around the world are needed to ensure the survival of leatherbacks as well as all species of sea turtles.

Mom worked with leatherbacks with these guys in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. That's Dr. Bryan Wallace on the far left and George Shillinger, second from the right. The other guys are from MINAE. They are park rangers who guard the beaches in Costa Rica. Isn't that leatherback huge?

Mom assisted Bryan, George, and a whole team of researchers attached satellite transmitters on leatherbacks like the one shown above. How cool is that? Don't even ask - of course I wasn't there. I heard all about it when Mom got back, but she doesn't have any pictures of nesting turtles because you can't take pictures at night because it scares the turtles. Mom does have pictures of the hatchlings (baby turtles) somewhere, so I will ask her if I can post some.

Leatherbacks are an important part of the ocean ecosystem. They are a keystone species which means their very presence contributes to a diversity of life and whose extinction would consequently lead to the extinction of other forms of life. The bottom line is that we need them and they need us.

There are so many threats to leatherbacks including pollution, loss of habitat (nesting beaches), exploitation, and of course fishing. Long-line fishing is the worst thing for leatherbacks and for all the other marine animals that die because of it. Longliner ships set out fishing lines up to 75 miles long, hung with thousands of hooks. Tens of thousands of sea turtles drown on longlines every year and this is why the Pacific leatherback population is estimated to be extinct in less than ten years.

My ocean buddies belong in the ocean and not washed up on some beach. Please know where the fish you eat comes from and make sure it is sustainable. Mom does not believe sustainable fish exist, but I know that people like to eat fish.

Check out this short video of leatherbacks in action (after the short commercial) at http://www.livescience.com/common/media/video/player.php?videoRef=LS_090518_Leatherback-Turtle. Mom always says that once you see a leatherback nesting, you will want to quit your day job and devote your life to sea turtle conservation. Umm Mom, not everyone is as crazy as you!


Pearl said...

Hey Stubby! Man, those turtles are awesome! I can see why your momma loves 'em. I tried to play that video, but after the commercial, nothing else ever came on? I am probably just doing something wrong...

Stubby said...

Pearly Poo - That dumb old video was messed up, wasn't it? I told Mom to check it for me after I posted it, but noooo!

I deleted it and put a link to the video in its place. There is no audio with the video, but it is really good. Leatherbacks are so amazing!

Stubby xoxo