Sat-nav turtles go on trans-ocean trek

A A A

Satellite tracking devices have shed light on an astonishing trans-Atlantic odyssey undertaken by the leatherback turtle, one of the world's most ancient species, as it goes on a feeding foray before breeding, scientists said on Wednesday.

Biologists at the University of Exeter in southwestern England attached the tiny trackers to 25 female turtles at their breeding grounds in Gabon, central-west Africa, and then monitored their movements over the next five years.

Three migratory routes emerged as the turtles headed for food-rich waters in the Atlantic, building reserves over the next two to five years before returning to Gabon to reproduce, they reported.

One route led to a circular zone in the mid-Atlantic between central Africa and Brazil, and another route went far south, beyond the Cape of Good Hope.

A third went straight as an arrow across the Atlantic to the coast of South America, an ocean-spanning 7,563 kilometres (4,699 miles).

"Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no-one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now," said Matthew Witt of the university's Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

"What we've shown is that there are three clear migration routes as they head back to feeding grounds after breeding in Gabon, although the numbers adopting each strategy varied each year. We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys."

The findings, published by Britain's Royal Society in its journal Proceedings B, also showed that the turtles also crisscross routes used by longline trawlers.

These are ships that trail baited hooks for fish but often end up snaring hapless turtles, as well as albatrosses.

"All of the routes we've identified take the leatherbacks through areas of high risk from fisheries," said Witt's colleague, Brendan Godley.

"Knowing the routes has also helped us identify at least 11 nations who should be involved in conservation efforts, as well as those with long-distance fishing fleets."

The largest, farthest-ranging and deepest-diving turtles on Earth, leatherbacks can reach up to two metres (6.5 feet) in length and exceed 900 kilos (2,000 pounds) in weight.

Their numbers have remained relatively stable in the Atlantic, but have declined alarmingly in the Pacific. Their decline has been blamed on accidental catch by trawlers and loss of breeding grounds to shorefront development.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high