A major conservation effort, led by Dr Brendan Godley of the University of
Exeter, has just got underway to help protect endangered leatherback turtles
which nest in Gabon, West Africa. The region is thought to be the animals'
last global stronghold, as pacific populations dwindle precariously.

It's hoped the project, to tag and track the animals, will uncover their
migratory secrets and provide the basis for efforts to safeguard them. After
fitting them with satellite trackers the team are using the internet to
follow their journeys, which are among the longest in the animal kingdom.

Dr Brendan Godley, who is also one of the Directors of SEATURTLE.org
where the tracks are hosted online, said:"Pacific leatherbacks have been
decimated by incidental capture at sea and overexploitation so it's vital
that we protect the Atlantic population.This project is crucial to our understanding
of the geographical range of the leatherback as so little is currently known about their
travels. We think turtles from Gabon could be traveling as far afield as South America,
Europe and even the Indian Ocean to feed on their jellyfish prey.
Once we have detailed information our tracking work will feed directly into
strategies for marine protected areas in Gabon and farther afield and more
sustainable fisheries.
We are just beginning to understand the importance of the leatherbacks of
West Africa as a global stronghold but we need to know where they live to
protect them."

The tracking data is publicly available online and is creating much interest
with more than 100,000 hits from over 150 countries on the site
www.seaturtle.org/tracking each month.

It's thought that globally more than 50,000 leatherback turtles are
incidentally caught by fisherman trawling for other species each year. Of
these, thousands are thought to die as a result. Approximately 1.4 billion
hooks are cast into the world's oceans as part of industrial long-line
fishing, with 37% of this fishing effort in the Atlantic. A major hotspot
is found off West Africa, the focus of this study.

With fishing yields decreasing in European seas the EU has struck up a
number of agreements with African nations to fish their waters. Amazingly,
most EU fishing concessions don't even incorporate compulsory bycatch
monitoring programmes.

Scientists from the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus are working with
a consortium of partners in Gabon (Aventures Sans Frontieres, Parcs Gabon
and Wildlife Conservation Society) and the USA (Duke University,
SEATURTLE.org) to try to solve the mystery of where the turtles' spend their

The work is supported by a range of UK and international funding bodies
including the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) 2004/5
Shellshock Campaign www.eaza.net