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Page last updated at 07:56 GMT, Wednesday, 5 January 2011
Tracking a turtle's extraordinary journey
Leatherback Turtle
Researchers have tracked leatherback turtles on their migration journeys

Researchers based in Cornwall have revealed for the first time ever the extraordinary journeys of leatherback turtles.

They travel over thousands of miles of migration routes across the Atlantic.

The findings are the result of years of study of 25 female leatherbacks.

Researchers from the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus used sophisticated satellite tracking of the turtles' movements.

People from all over the world helped with the tracking

The lead research scientist at Exeter University's Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Penryn is Dr Matthew Witt. Click on the audio link to hear the interview:

Dr Witt says: "Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no-one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now.

"What we've shown is that there are three clear migration routes as they head back to feeding grounds after breeding in Gabon, although the numbers adopting each strategy varied each year.

"We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys - with one female tracked for thousands of miles travelling in a straight line right across the Atlantic."

These leatherback turtles were tracked from their nesting grounds in west Africa to the food rich areas of the south Atlantic.

The conservation community can now work toward protecting leatherbacks at sea, which has been previously difficult
Dr. Howard Rosenbaum

The longest journey was more than 4,500 miles.

Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program, said: "This important work shows that protecting leatherback turtles—the ancient mariners of our oceans—requires research and conservation on important nesting beaches, foraging areas and important areas of the high seas.

"Armed with a better understanding of migration patterns and preferences for particular areas of the ocean, the conservation community can now work toward protecting leatherbacks at sea, which has been previously difficult."

Leatherbacks are the largest turtle and may grow to a total length of about 1.8m (6ft) with a weight of about 540kg (1,200lb) and a span of about 2.7m from the tip of one front flipper to the tip of the other front flipper.

Turtles have no obvious shell. Instead, they have bones buried in their dark brown or blackish skin. They have flexible bony plates set on ridges.

There are seven longitudinal ridges on their backs and five on their undersides.

These strong swimmers survive on a diet of grasses and small animals.

Experts from Penryn are hoping their research will help efforts to safeguard the future of leatherback turtles.

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