Record-breaking turtle migration exposes limits of marine reserves

first_imgResearchers have tracked a green turtle migrating nearly 4000 kilometers from its home. That’s a record breaker for the species, but it’s bad news for some marine protected areas (MPAs). Such zones are off-limits to fishing, yet they may not be keeping these turtles—and other highly migratory animals—safe, according to a new study.The work focused on an MPA in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago. The 640,000-square-kilometer MPA contains numerous threatened and endangered species, including sharks and turtles. It was created in 2010 to protect the enormous biodiversity of the archipelago. To figure out how well the Chagos MPA safeguards its inhabitants, an international team of researchers attached GPS tracking devices to eight green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and monitored their movements as they made the trek to their foraging grounds.“After we tagged the turtles, we had an informal bet about what they’d do,” says Graeme Hays, an ecologist at Deakin University, Warrnambool, in Australia and a co-author on the study. “None of us predicted they would travel as far as mainland Africa—nearly 4000 kilometers away!”Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Out of eight turtles, only one foraged within the bounds of the Chagos MPA. The rest paddled much farther, reaching the Maldives and even the Seychelles, thousands of kilometers away. The turtle with the farthest migration traveled 3979 kilometers to Somalia in 68 days, the researchers report online this month in Conservation Biology.“It’s amazing. We’ve been tracking and studying turtles for over 20 years, but we still can be completely surprised by these tracking studies,” Hays says. “It just shows how little we really know about sea turtle movement.”Although MPAs can work well at protecting habitats like coral reefs and nonmigratory wildlife such as the coconut crab, the authors say that more effort needs to be made to protect migratory species such as the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle from poachers, marine debris, and fishing gear entanglement. The study found that turtles spend most of their time outside these protected areas, and suggests supplementing large protected areas with smaller MPAs. These smaller MPAs would target the main destinations of migratory species, offering protection that goes beyond nesting and hatching grounds.Despite global commitments to increase the number of protected areas, less than 3% of the world’s oceans are now protected within an MPA. In many cases, MPA planning isn’t based on environmental science, Hays says. Often, the boundaries for a large MPA are simply the territorial limits around a nation’s oceanic islands, as is the case with the Chagos Archipelago.The study shows that even the largest MPAs cannot work in isolation, says Janice Blumenthal, a research officer for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment in George Town who works with sea turtle ecology. “We need international cooperation in ocean conservation.”Hays’s team is now advising the Seychelles government about future MPAs to ensure a healthy future for the developing island nation’s natural resources. “A lot of tourists go to Seychelles to see the marine wildlife, so there’s definitely a will to protect the turtles there,” he says. At the same time, Hays notes certain areas will likely remain open for fishing and other marine activities. “The key goal is to try and keep everyone as happy as possible.” Especially the turtles.last_img

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