Movements of Atlantic Leatherback Turtles - Trans-Oceanic Cooperation for Bycatch Reduction

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Central Africa > Gabon

Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Costa Rica
Latin America/Caribbean > Central America > Panama
Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Argentina
Latin America/Caribbean > South America > French Guiana (FR)
Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Suriname
Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Uruguay

Shelldon, a female leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) fitted with a satellite transmitter.
© WWF-Canon / Carlos DREWS

Summary

PRICTMA

WWF's gobal programme of work on bycatch, of which this project forms part, aims to mitigate bycatch in a coordinated and strategic manner. The programme works towards solutions in partnership with stakeholders in local communities and regional fisheries organizations.

The Trans-Atlantic Leatherback Conservation Initiative (TALCIN) is an international, multi-partner effort which will provide a platform for the compilation and dissemination of travel route information about the trans-oceanic movements of leatherback turtles. This will allow the subsequent design of measures to reduce bycatch mortality in Atlantic fisheries.

The project will increase knowledge about the movements of leatherback turtles in the Atlantic basin by satellite-tracking from Costa Rica, French Guiana, Panama, Suriname, Uruguay and Gabon.

Background

Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are the most widely distributed reptiles occurring throughout tropical, as well as temperate and cold oceans of the world. In the Atlantic, the interval between consecutive nesting seasons is generally 2 years for this species. During that time, the turtles cover vast distances that include their feeding grounds.

Leatherback turtles are specialised predators of gelatinous zooplankton, mainly jellyfish. They alternate periods of deep diving, sometimes exceeding 1,000 metres, with shallow dives and basking.

The incidental killing of leatherback turtles by commercial fisheries (such as drift gill nets, set nets and longlines) has been implicated in the dramatic decline at major leatherback nesting beaches around the world. Thus, leatherback turtles are currently listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The survival of the world’s largest reptile, but also one of the most critically endangered marine vertebrates, requires an international effort to work on its conservation in seas and oceans, where it spends 99% of its life. About 50,000 leatherback turtles are caught every year in longlines worldwide.

Objectives

Main objectives

1. Provide a platform for the compilation and dissemination of travel route information about the trans-oceanic movements of leatherback turtles, enabling the design of measures to reduce bycatch mortality in Atlantic fisheries.

2. Start an international trans-oceanic cooperation initiative, based on the study of travel routes of leatherback turtles, that involves governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and fisheries agencies in the Atlantic basin in the effective conservation of this highly migratory marine species.

Specific objectives

1. Set up an international team of collaborating agencies for the conservation of leatherback turtles, with affiliations to at least 7 nations from the Atlantic basin.

2. Track the movements of at least 25 leatherback turtles fitted with satellite radio-telemetry equipment on the Western and Eastern coast of the Atlantic, for up to 3 years, starting in Panama, French Guiana, Uruguay and Gabon.

3. Compile and disseminate the information about movements of leatherback turtles in the Atlantic basin from this and previous studies in a geographic information system (GIS)/internet format useful for the design of bycatch reduction measures.

4. Generate communications and press materials calling for international, trans-oceanic cooperation to ensure effective conservation of highly migratory marine species, such as leatherback turtles.

5. Liaise with WWF's European offices in the approach to governments of those countries responsible for most of the leatherback bycatch in the Atlantic to promote implementation of bycatch reduction measures.

Solution

The information obtained from this study will be of paramount importance to governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists and fisheries agencies to design conservation solutions to tackle bycatch. These may be:

- Time-area closures: the cessation of fishing activities in specific areas and/or over certain periods of time when leatherback bycatch is most likely.

- Fisheries “best practice”: information on leatherback diving depths and durationswill enable scientists to determine how fisheries can operate in a manner which is least likely to harm turtles.

- Changes in fishing gear: the study will also provide an indication of which fisheries should be advised for the conversion from a “J” shaped hook to a larger “C” shaped hook on longlines. Studies in the Atlantic have shown that using a larger “C” shaped hook can reduce marine turtle hookings by more than 67%.

This WWF coordinated project includes the design of bycatch reduction measures and their implementation in the Atlantic through technology transfer, capacity building and policy work.

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