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BVI Fisheries Department Joins Anguilla in the Tracking of Leatherback Turtles

Something
very wonderful is happening in the northern Caribbean.
The BVI Department of Conservation and Fisheries has joined with
Anguilla’s Dept. of Fisheries and Marine Resources
to actually tag a giant Leatherback Turtle in order to track turtle migratory
habits. The exciting news is that all of their findings are showing that
turtles are anything but slow. Their evidence, tracked over this summer,
indicates that turtles actually swim thousands of miles to get from their
southern feeding grounds in winter to their northern feeding grounds in the
summer. Forget about the Turtle and the Hare – the turtle is not only the
winner due to persistence but also for speed – once she gets in the
water, that is.

The first
Leatherback to be documented on this miraculous swim is Malliouhana,
an endangered specimen that is the first Caribbean
turtle to be fitted with a satellite transmitter tag. Malliouhana
was named after the American-Indian name for Anguilla,
where she nested and was tagged on the 13th May this past spring.

The
Leatherback is the largest turtle species and is known to migrate to the
northern Atlantic each summer, where it feasts
on jellyfish. An international team comprising of officers from
Anguilla’s Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the British
Virgin Islands’ Conservation and Fisheries Department and the MCS, fitted
the tag as part of a wider, collaborative project known as Turtles in the UK
Overseas Territories (TUKOT), a two-year UK Government funded OTEP project
coordinated by the Marine Turtle Research Group at the University
of Exeter in
Cornwall, in association with MCS and
SEATURTLE.ORG.

As a
result of a project headed by the University
of Exeter in
Cornwall, England
and the Marine Conservation Society, internet users are now able to daily track
the turtle’s migration. Keeping track of Malliouhana
is really fun, as I have discovered logging on during the past several months.
In early fall, Malliouhana swam into the Canadian
Exclusive Economic Zone waters then spent several weeks foraging off-shore near
Nova Scotia. Unbelievably, Malliouhana swam about 45
kilometers a day and has made dives to over 600 meters in depth. The satellite tag
transmits her position to orbiting satellites when she surfaces to breath, and
is programmed to track her movements for up to three years. She has swum some
2,500 + miles so far and I find this documentation really amazing.

Peter
Richardson, MCS Species Policy Officer who helped attach the tag told us,
“We are very pleased with Malliouhana’s
progress, because for the first time she has revealed where some of
Anguilla’s critically small leatherback turtle nesting population goes
after they complete their nesting cycle in Anguilla.
Malliouhana has shown us once again that marine
turtles do not recognize national boundaries. This means that countries far
apart from each other have to work together to protect these spectacular
animals.

Leatherbacks have been present off
Canada’s coast for some time
now. However, most won’t begin migrating southward until November, so
plenty of time remains for Malliouhana to acquire the
resources she needs for a successful return to tropical waters. We work with over
500 volunteer fishermen who report turtle sightings and also directly assist us
with at-sea research on this species. This network is key
to monitoring leatherbacks in our waters.”

This
amazing journey can be tracked at: www.seaturtle.org/tracking/Malliouhana
The leatherback turtle is one of 6 endangered turtle species that can be
adopted through the MCS Adopt-a-Turtle programme,
which raises vital funds to support turtle conservation in the UK and
worldwide.

For all
my animal loving friends out there I urge you to look at www.mcsuk.org and to spend your money in a
helpful way – adopt a turtle!

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