From: Tamera Jones, Planet Earth Online
Published January 6, 2011 09:39 AM

Atlantic leatherbacks at risk from fisheries

Scientists have used satellites to track the world's largest nesting population of leatherback turtles across the South Atlantic for the first time. Their results reveal the routes the critically endangered creatures take make them more vulnerable to commercial fishing in the South Atlantic than previously thought.


The turtles leave their hatching grounds in Gabon in western Africa and return to the open ocean to feed, following one of three routes. Some go straight to the equatorial region of the mid-Atlantic, while others journey across the Atlantic to the coast of South America, or to the South African coast. Some of these trips are up to 4,700 miles long.

They stay in these areas for two to five years to build up enough fat reserves to reproduce, before returning to Gabon to lay eggs once again.

The problem is their routes coincide with large coastal fisheries off South America and South Africa, and long-line fisheries in the mid-Atlantic.

While leatherback turtle populations in the North Atlantic appear stable, scientists are concerned that this could soon change. The pace of industrialisation of fisheries and the increasing numbers of turtles that have fallen victim to fisheries as bycatch are two reasons for this.

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