Saturday, 21 April 2007

The Great Turtle Race

Eleven Leatherback Turtles to Compete in the Great Turtle Race from Costa Rica to Galapagos from April 16 to April 29

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, 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.

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.

“One of the wonderful things about this event is that it allows us to engage the public in conservation with upbeat messages,” said Roderic Mast, vice president of Conservation International and co-chair of the IUCN—World Conservation Union’s Marine Turtle Specialist Group. “It also just so happens that when we eradicate threats to leatherback turtles, we eradicate threats to countless other species of marine wildlife.”

Corporate Sponsors Participate to Help Save 100-million-year-old Species from Extinction

Starting April 5, fans will have a chance to choose a favorite 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. “The data provides a nearly real-time ‘turtle’s-eye view’ of animal behavior 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 innovative conservation measures and adaptive management strategies that consider oceanography, animal behavior and human pressures and work to conserve sea turtles and other migratory species.

Activities for fans on include an opportunity to choose their favorite turtle in the race; an interactive animation of the habitats and hazards along the leatherbacks’ journey; original blogs by scientists, students, and a character known as Mr. Leatherback who are following the race; and Great Turtle Race educational curriculum for teachers to incorporate the event into lesson plans.

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