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

4/6/2007

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

Washington, DC 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 Dreyers Ice Cream, GITI Tires, Plantronics, Travelocity, West Marine and Yahoo!, which is hosting The Great Turtle Race online at www.GreatTurtleRace.com.

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 Ricas 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 dono matter where they liveto help protect sea turtles in our daily actions.

James Spotila, president of The Leatherback Trust, said, Its time for people to rally around these ancient creatures and to understand that the actions we takeas individuals, as governments, as businesspeoplecan 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 IUCNWorld Conservation Unions 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.

Starting April 5, fans will have a chance to choose a favorite turtle at www.GreatTurtleRace.com to cheer throughout the race. During the race, viewers can follow each turtles journey and learn about the obstacles it will face along the wayincluding fishing lines, nets, and trawls; plastic bags (often mistaken for jellyfish, the leatherbacks primary food source) and other marine debris; and many other human-created hazards.

Its 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 turtles-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 www.GreatTurtleRace.com 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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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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