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Eleven Leatherback Turtles to Compete in the Great Turtle Race from Costa Rica to Galapagos

14/01/2007 00:00:00 April 2007. The Great Turtle Race, a unique international sea turtle conservation event bringing corporate sponsors together with conservation organizations, will take place from April 16 to April 29 in a global bid to raise awareness and funds for the critically endangered leatherback turtle. Ten corporations and institutions will compete in The Great Turtle Race.
Leatherback turtle swimming underwater. ©Tamar-Ibama.
The sponsored turtles have been equipped with satellite tags and are ‘racing’ toward feeding areas south of the Galapagos Islands after nesting at Playa Grande in Costa Rica’s Las Baulas National Park, the primary nesting area for leatherbacks in the Pacific. The leatherback is a 100 million-year-old, massive sea animal that outlived the dinosaurs but is now dangerously close to extinction. Leatherback numbers have decreased at Playa Grande from thousands of nesting turtles 10 years ago to fewer than 100 in the last five years. This online event will raise funds to protect Playa Grande and raise awareness about what individuals can do—no matter where they live—to help protect sea turtles in our daily actions.

James Spotila, president of The Leatherback Trust, said, ‘It’s time for people to rally around these ancient creatures and to understand that the actions we take, as individuals, as governments, as businesspeople, can have either a negative or positive effect on the ocean.’ Poaching of eggs, bycatch in gillnets and longline fishing, destruction of sea turtle nesting beaches and ocean pollution threaten leatherbacks with extinction.
Leatherback returns to the sea. © Matthew Godfrey.
Roderic Mast, vice president of Conservation International and co-chair of the IUCN—World Conservation Union’s Marine Turtle Specialist Group, said ‘It also just so happens that when we eradicate threats to leatherback turtles, we eradicate threats to countless other species of marine wildlife.’

Starting on April 5, you will have a chance to choose a favourite turtle at to cheer throughout the race. During the race, viewers can follow each turtle’s journey and learn about the obstacles it will face along the way—including fishing lines, nets, and trawls; plastic bags (often mistaken for jellyfish, the leatherback’s primary food source) and other marine debris; and many other human-created hazards.

‘It’s fascinating to consider that we are able to bring together these prehistoric animals with such cutting-edge science. With every move the turtles make, the satellite tags collect information that would be extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive for humans to gather,’ said Stanford University researcher George Shillinger of TOPP (Tagging of Pacific Predators). ‘The data provides a nearly real-time ‘turtle’s-eye view’ of animal behaviour in relation to environmental change.’

As the leatherbacks surface to breathe every several minutes, the satellite tags transmit data such as geolocation, water temperature and water depth to satellites in space, which then transmit the data back down to computer servers in the U.S. in nearly real time. That data is then combined with remotely-sensed data about sea surface temperature, sea surface height, bathymetry and more to build a more comprehensive understanding of the ocean with each dataset.

This information will enable scientists and managers to development new conservation measures and adaptive management strategies that consider oceanography, animal behaviour and human pressures and work to conserve sea turtles and other migratory species.

Corporate sponsors
Ten corporations and institutions will compete in The Great Turtle Race, including Dreyer’s Ice Cream, GITI Tires, Plantronics, Travelocity, West Marine and Yahoo!, which is hosting The Great Turtle Race online at
Non-corporate sponsors include Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, CA; Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA; Life Sciences Secondary School in New York, NY (through the financial sponsorship of Microsoft); and Offield Center for Billfish Studies. An eleventh ‘celebrity’ turtle will be announced during the week of April 9. The Great Turtle Race is organized by Conservation International, the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment and Energy, The Leatherback Trust and the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) program. Costa Rica Ministry of Environment and Energy: The Ministry of Energy and the Environment protects more than 25 percent of Costa Rican land in national parks, wildlife reserves and forest reserves. It seeks to maintain the integrity of the biodiversity and ecosystems of this Central American country. Las Baulas National Park plays a key role in this protected system.

The Leatherback Trust: The Leatherback Trust (TLT) is a non-profit foundation established to save the leatherback turtle and other sea turtles from extinction. TLT scientists were instrumental in founding Las Baulas National Marine Park in Costa Rica, a protective haven for the most important leatherback nesting beaches in the Pacific Ocean.

Tagging of Pacific Predators: TOPP (Tagging of Pacific Predators) seeks to better understand the North Pacific ecosystem by observing the biology and behavior of top-level marine predators in their oceanographic habitat. TOPP offers an organism's view of the open ocean environment, vastly increasing our knowledge of the Pacific Ocean and gathering data that will help policymakers and resource managers make wise decisions about ocean use.

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