Friday, 4 December 2015

Leatherback sea turtles choose nest sites carefully, study finds

Date:November 24, 2015
Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The enormous, solitary leatherback sea turtle spends most of its long life at sea. After hatching and dispersing across the world's oceans, only the female leatherbacks return to their natal beaches to lay clutches of eggs in the sand. A new study offers fresh insights into their nesting choices and will help efforts to prevent the extinction of this globally endangered giant of the sea, researchers said.

A report of the new findings appears in the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery.

"Leatherbacks are the largest of the sea turtles: The males can grow to more than 1,800 pounds and the females are 600 to 800 pounds," said University of Illinois veterinary clinical medicine professor Dr. Mark Mitchell, who led the study. Mitchell also edits the journal in which the study appears.

Some leatherbacks migrate up to 7,000 miles between their hatching and feeding areas, with females making return trips to lay eggs every two or three years.

"Their ability to get back to their natal beaches without some GPS tracker to show them where to go is pretty impressive," Mitchell said.

The researchers focused on leatherback sea turtles nesting on St. Kitts, an island in the West Indies southeast of Puerto Rico. The team wanted to know what factors influence where and when the leatherbacks lay their eggs. The information will help conservation efforts and improve the ecotourism experience, Mitchell said.

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