We Have a Winner!

4/26/2007

Billie Crosses First into Finish Zone of the Great Turtle Race

Washington, DC  Early this morning, at approximately 5:30 a.m. (PST), the leatherback known as Billie became the first sea turtle of eleven to cross into the finish zone, winning the first-ever Great Turtle Race.

Were overjoyed that Billie has won the raceeven in the face of aggressive challenges from Stephanie Colburtle the Turtle, said Paxson Offield of the Offield Center for Billfish Studies, Billies proud sponsor in the Great Turtle Race. She is a hero to turtles, billfish and the many other marine animals that are threatened and going faster than you think. Way to go, Billie, and congratulations to all of the other racers!"

Rod Mast of Conservation International said, But the race isnt over until the turtles all come home! There are three days left in the race, and eight of the other ten competitors are hot on the migration trail toward the finish zone. Drexelina and Sundae are steadily holding the last two positions in the race, but theyre doing just fine.

Drexelina and Sundae continue to swim the coastal waters near the starting line at Playa Grande in Costa Ricas Las Baulas National Park. Their delayed migration is nothing out of the ordinary, experts in the Great Turtle Race say.

The Great Turtle Race has been organized by The Leatherback Trust, Tagging of Pacific Predators and Conservation International as a consumer call-to-action to raise awareness and funds for the plight of the leatherback and its fellow endangered sea creatures. The event began on April 16 and concludes on April 29, although fans will be able to follow their turtles online for the next several months.

Satellite tags on the 11 female turtles of the Great Turtle Race track the turtles migratory movements from the starting line at Playa Grande, Costa Rica (the leatherbacks main nesting site in the Pacific Ocean) to the finish zone around the Galapagos Islandsa distance of approximately 500 miles. The finish zone of the Great Turtle Race is the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone around the Galapagos Islands.

George Shillinger of Tagging of Pacific Predators said, Watching these turtles migrate from critical nesting habitat in Costa Rica through the waters of Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and points south truly speaks to the need for collaborative management for transboundary species such as leatherbacks. The knowledge gained from this event will help to inform the management of this magnificent species on the great racecourse of the vast Pacific.

During the next several months these turtles will migrate south through the waters of Peru and Chile where they will face human pressures such as fishing longlines and gillnets and marine debris such as plastics.

The Great Turtle Race began on April 16 and concludes on April 29, although fans will be able to follow their turtles online for the next several months. It has been organized by The Leatherback Trust, Tagging of Pacific Predators and Conservation International as a consumer call-to-action to raise awareness and funds for the plight of the leatherback and its fellow endangered sea creatures. The race leaderboard is updated every 10 minutes, allowing race fans to check in on their favorite turtles throughout each day.

Jim Spotila of The Leatherback Trust said, Its easy to help. If every one of the 40,000 fans who signed up to cheer for these turtles could donate a dollar, we could buy land at Playa Grande and save it from coastal development. That would ultimately protect thousands of adult and hatchling turtles from erosion, light pollution, and chemical and oil pollution at the nesting beaches. Spotila also suggests that leatherback fans write to the president of Costa Rica to save the nesting beach at Playa Grande and other nesting beaches in Las Baulas National Park.

Forty thousand Great Turtle Race fans have signed up to follow the turtles at www.GreatTurtleRace.com, receiving daily updates about the turtles progress and learning about conservation of the 100 million-year-old leatherback. All leatherbacks are Critically Endangered, and at current rates of decline, the Pacific population of leatherbacks could become extinct within the next decade.

Fans can make donations at www.GreatTurtleRace.com to help save the leatherback. Additional suggestions for how individuals can help sea turtles and other endangered ocean wildlife simply by changing simple actions in their livessuch as making careful seafood choices and eliminating plastic bag usecan be found on the How Can I Help? page of the Great Turtle Race website.

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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. www.leatherback.org.

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. www.topp.org.

Conservation International: Conservation International believes that Earth's natural heritage must be maintained if future generations are to thrive spiritually, culturally and economically. Its mission is to conserve the Earth's living heritage, our global biodiversity, and to demonstrate that human societies are able to live harmoniously with nature. www.conservation.org.

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. www.minae.go.cr.  

Photos and b-roll are available upon request.

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