High Risk Zones in Atlantic Identified for Leatherback Turtles
Researchers tracked leatherback turtle migrations across the Atlantic Ocean in order to compare their movements with data from high pressure fishing areas. Observing multiple high risk areas where turtles could become entangled and drown, the study, led by Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter and Sabrina Fossette of Swansea University, concluded that urgent international efforts are needed to protect the iconic species.
The team tracked a total of 106 leatherbacks between 1995 and 2010 in the Atlantic and southwest Indian Oceans. These movements, occurring in both deep sea international waters and coastal national waters, formed a complex pattern of habitat use that was then compared to long line fishing efforts. The researchers estimate 4 billion hooks were set throughout the Atlantic Ocean by industrial fisheries between 1995 and 2010.
"This study clearly stresses the transboundary nature of leatherback turtle seasonal movement and the multi-national effort necessary to design measures to protect this iconic species from fisheries activity. Significant efforts are urgently needed to bridge the gap between scientists and the fishing industry to ensure these and future findings are rapidly progressed into policy," Witt said.
The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that "of the nine areas of high susceptibility for leatherbacks, four are in the North Atlantic and five in the South/Equatorial Atlantic," according to a release announcing the findings.
While some of the high risk areas were in deep international water, others fall inside the Exclusive Economic Zones (where use is restricted to national interests) of the UK, US, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Spain, Western Sahara, Angola, Brazil and Namibia.
"The integration of these vast datasets clearly highlights areas where fisheries need to be subject to greater scrutiny. We must avoid the tragedy that could ensue where fisheries from wealthy nations negatively impact the marine biodiversity of developing nations, many of which are valiantly trying to protect their coastal and offshore environments," said Brendan Godley, a professor and senior author of the paper.