New TOPP pub about the movement of leatherbacks

The TOPP sea turtle team is excited to announce the publication of our leatherback tracking manuscript just released in the open source scientific journal, PLoS Biology on July 15, 2008,  Persistent Leatherback Turtle Migrations Present Opportunities for Conservation.

Our paper describes the movements of 46 leatherback turtles tracked over a four year period from 2004-2007.  We describe the influences of oceanography on turtle distribution and confirm the presence of a persistent leatherback migration corridor and putative foraging habitats in the Eastern Pacific --- both of which have significant implications for leatherback conservation and management.  We also discuss how the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS) initiative serves as a management and policy framework within which to realize conservation advances for leatherbacks during their internesting and post-nesting phases.  I believe that the ETPS may well provide the best available transboundary model within which to implement our science-driven management recommendations for leatherbacks and gives hope that we may ultimately be able to reverse the decline (over 95%) that the leatherbacks have experienced in the Eastern Pacific.

Our manuscript has received a lot of interest from the research and conservation community, as well as the general public. We are very hopeful that the findings from the TOPP Sea Turtle Team will be applied to conserve and manage this population of critically endangered leatherback turtles.

Author Summary

Highly migratory marine animals routinely cross international borders during extensive migrations over thousands of kilometers, thus requiring conservation strategies with information about habitat use and movement patterns. Critically endangered leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the eastern Pacific have suffered a severe population decline in recent years. In this study, we present the largest multi-year satellite tracking data set for leatherback turtles (n = 46 turtles, 12,095 days) to describe the migrations, habitats, and dispersal of female leatherbacks tagged at Playa Grande, Costa Rica. Leatherbacks followed a migration corridor southward from Costa Rica into the South Pacific Gyre in each year of our study. In the equatorial region, leatherbacks experienced strong ocean currents that influenced the direction of their movements; leatherbacks responded to current deflection with rapid, directed movements to maintain their southward heading. After passing through this equatorial current field, turtles dispersed broadly within a low-energy, low-productivity region of the South Pacific. Our analyses revealed that ocean currents shaped the migration corridor and influenced the scope of turtle dispersal in the South Pacific­results that provide a biological rationale for the development of multi-scale conservation strategies. These strategies could involve improved and enhanced monitoring of leatherback–fisheries interactions as well as dynamic time-area fisheries closures and protected area designations within the high seas of the South Pacific.