Ocean Habitat

Leatherbacks and other sea turtles spend 99% of their lives in the water, often moving between protected and unprotected areas where they are exposed to different threats. As we expand our focus to include turtles at all life history stages, TLT seeks new techniques and strategies for protecting turtles in distant foraging habitats and migratory routes.

A flexible shell allows leatherbacks to dive as deep as 1250 meters (4100 feet) in search of food.

© Doug Perrine | SeaPics.com

Protecting turtles across migratory routes requires multi-governmental management of coastal and high-seas regions. TLT is engaging Central and South American nations to enact policies aimed at reducing the impact of fisheries on East Pacific leatherbacks within their exclusive economic zones. Our work also links initiatives to conserve pelagic foraging grounds with important internesting areas like the offshore portion of Las Baulas National Park, which protects more than 26,000 hectares of marine habitat.

Dr. George Shillinger leads TLT’s “Lost Years” team to learn more about the early life history of leatherbacks. His team designs computer models to predict how coastal currents and ocean eddies influence dispersal of leatherback hatchlings. These models demonstrate how oceanographic factors give hatchlings starting out at Playa Grande a greater chance of survival. They also underscore the importance of protecting nests in Las Baulas National Park where optimal offshore conditions create “hatchling highways” that whisk vulnerable hatchlings away from predators to more favorable habitats.

Just 25 percent of leatherback hatchlings survive their first year in the ocean.

© Jason Bradley | BradleyPhotographic.com

At Playa Cabuyal, Dr. Bibi Santidrián leads a scientific effort to track the movements of East Pacific green turtles. These turtles can make 4-5 different nests, each with a clutch of 80-100 eggs, during a single nesting season. They spend about two weeks in the ocean between nesting events. Researchers at Playa Cabuyal are using telemetry to identify these internesting areas and to better understand how East Pacific green turtles use Gulf of Papagayo habitat. After nesting, scientists also track the migration of turtles to their feeding grounds. Data collected on where Eastern Pacific green sea turtles go and how they use key habitats can be used to better protect them.

Scientists tag a turtle.