As I mentioned in a previous post, olive ridleys are not the first sea turtle to be satellite tracked in Gabon. Collaborators at seaturtle.org, the Marine Turtle Research Group and Wildlife Conservation Society have been tracking leatherback sea turtles for the last several years - and have found that they cross the entire Atlantic Ocean!
Gabon is home to what is thought to be the largest leatherback nesting in the WORLD. Leatherbacks are amazing animals - sometimes over a thousand pounds, and eight feet long - and they reach this incredible size by eating nothing but jellyfish!!! Seeing a leatherback for the first time is an incredible experience.
The Gabon Leatherback Project has similar goals to that of the olive ridley project - understanding where the turtles are going, how they are using the park, domestic and international waters, and understanding how they can be better protected from fishery bycatch and other threats. One of the most aspect of the projects is that we will combine the data on leatherbacks and olive ridleys to get a multi-species picture of how to better protect sea turtles in this region.
Tagging leatherback turtles is no easy feat. Unlike other 'hardshell' turtles like olive ridleys, the satellite tags can not be glued to the carapace because the leathery 'shell' of the leatherback is living tissue. Instead, harnesses or other direct attachment methods have to be used. The folks at the Marine Turtle Research Group and seaturtle.org have pioneered a new attachment method that has proved to be incredibly successful - and much better for the turtles. In fact, they are the first to tag leatherbacks in this part of the world, and one of the turtles tagged in February of this year is still transmitting - and currently off the coast of Brazil! Follow the leatherback journey on the seaturtle.org webpage, and keep your eyes peeled for new turtles popping up in just a couple of months - Matt Witt will be back to brave the wilds of Gabon again in November to deploy several more tags - good luck Matt!
Hope all is well in your part of the world!
Image credits: seaturtle.org, Matthew Witt
This work is generously supported by:
National Science Foundation
Myers Oceanographic Trust
Friends of Long Marine Lab
Project Collaborators and Partners:
Parcs National Gabon
Partenariat Tortues Marines Gabon