Tracking Turtles from Space; July 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by Carrie Madren; 1 Page(s)
At 2,000 pounds and six and a half feet in length, leatherback turtles are the largest living reptiles. Their size, however, belies their fragility: among the leatherbacks that live in the Pacific Ocean, populations have dropped by 90 percent in the past 20 years. Biologists already knew that fishing gear posed a problem for the endangered turtles, which can get entangled in trawlers' nets, but they were not sure exactly where and when they were running into trouble.
“These animals travel thousands of miles across the Pacific, so there's no way we can track them from land or boat,” says marine biologist Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. So Bailey and her colleagues set out to follow them by satellite. The scientists positioned harnesses with tracking devices on the leatherbacks' soft shells; the devices transmitted a signal each time the turtles surfaced. The study, published in the April issue of Ecological Applications, pinpoints danger zones where turtles and trawlers meet. These data will help regulatory agencies decide the times and places they might limit fishing to protect the species.