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Leatherback Sea Turtles, the largest of all living sea turtles have been on our Planet for over 100 million years. They have survived the dinosaurs and watched the evolution of mankind. However, in the last 20 years, their population has declined by 90% and if something isn't done soon, they will disappear completely.
The reason for the decline has been pinpointed to two human activities - stealing of eggs and accidental killing of the adults from fishing and debris like plastic, which the turtles mistake for jellyfish, their favorite food.
Scientists have tried dealing with the first one by educating the local people, especially around the beaches of Costa Rica, which are big nesting grounds for these gentle giants. Over the last four years they have met with considerable success and the number of young turtles has started to grow again.
The second issue is trickier. Leatherback Turtles are highly migratory animals and they travel huge distances between their nesting and feeding grounds - and not always using the same route. This makes it difficult for scientist to track down where they are getting injured and dying.
However, about four years ago, scientists from the University of Stanford, Ca got a break. They discovered that the turtles that nest on the beaches of Playa Grande, Costa Rica seem to take the same route year after year. They decided to tag these turtles and see if they could try figure out what the most dangerous areas for them were, in terms of fishing lines.
In order to make more people aware of the plight of the turtles and to raise money for research, they decided to turn the tagging into a race and 'The Great Turtle Race" was born. The sponsorship, which costs $25,000 per turtle, comes from large corporations or local schools who manage to obtain grants from foundations. The tagged turtles who are all assigned names, are tracked real-time on www.greatturtlerace.com, as they swim their way to their nesting or feeding grounds. The turtle who makes it to his/her destination first, is declared the winner.
This year's race, which started in mid-June, tracked a different migratory route. It involved the tagging of four turtles from California and seven from Indonesia. For this race, the scientists were studying a different migration pattern from Ana Nuevo and Monterey Bay in California, to the nesting fields in Indonesia. The winner was Sapphire II a turtle sponsored by Bullis Charter School from Los Altos, California. Sapphire II swam a whopping 7,500 miles at an average speed of about 25 miles a day, from California to her nesting beach on the Indonesian Province of Papua-Barat.
Scientists hope that they will soon be able to collect enough data on the danger zones, so that they can impose a moratorium (stop) on fishing in certain months of year. As for those plastic bags and other debris, we all just have to do our share in reducing the amount of trash we generate, so that we can help in saving this majestic old relic!
For more info on Leatherback Turtles check out http://web.mac.com/jesslura/iWeb/Room24Site/GTR%202008.html and http://www.greatturtlerace.com/
Enjoy the short documentary by nine-year old Johnny Gilden, who feels so passionately about the Leatherback Turtles, that he has started his own crusade to make the world aware of their plight.