Saving Galapagos giant tortoises


This video is called Giant Galapagos Tortoise (extreme closeup!)

From Wired:

Inside the Galapagos Islands’ Giant Tortoise Rehab Effort

By Jeffrey Marlow

04.16.14

10:24 am

You’re sailing from the Spice Islands across the open ocean to the South American port of Guayaquil, your financial motives rooted somewhere along a broad spectrum of morality and lawfulness. Several months have passed, and food stores and morale are low. Fortunately, you know a spot that will save the day, a cluster of rocky islands jutting out of the east Pacific near the equator.

For centuries, the Galapagos Islands have been a convenience store for ocean-going journeys, the resident Giant Tortoises serving as the perfect solution to the constant challenge of acquiring fresh meat at sea. These enormous beasts could handle the rigors of shipboard life and could be harvested at any time. Ships throughout the 18th-20th centuries would stop at the Galapagos, herd dozens of tortoises onto the decks, and sail off, assured of a reliable protein source for the remainder of their journey. At one point, an American whaling vessel lost track of a captive tortoise, which ambled out of the hold two and a half years later in Nantucket. Befuddled onlookers promptly killed it and made a stew.

And so, slowly but surely, the Giant Tortoise population was decimated. By the mid-1900s, conservationists began to recognize the problem, just as the increasing rate of international tourism and commerce was introducing another mortal threat to the species.

This one came in the form of fire ants, a voracious invasive species with a taste for baby tortoise. “Within 20 minutes of hatching,” says naturalist Ernesto Vaca, “they swarm and make the baby tortoise disappear.” Other human-transported pests, like rats, dogs, and cats, have developed similar dietary proclivities. With the species now facing a genuine threat to its survival, the Centro de Crianza was founded on Isabela Island, and conservationists went into crisis mode, airlifting tortoises with helicopters and initiating a breeding program.

It took a while to develop effective breeding techniques, but today, the Centro boasts a near-perfect success rate from egg to teenage tortoise. The rescue program continues in full force, as the habitat surrounding Isabela Island’s many dome-shaped volcanoes have been deemed unsafe for tortoises because of the fire ant threat. Employees and volunteers venture into the dense forest to retrieve tortoise eggs, which are then placed into computer-controlled incubators back at the Centro. The sex of the fledglings is determined by egg incubation temperature – above 37.5 °C leads to females, below produces males – allowing the Centro to generate its ideal ratio of 60% females and 40% males. Just before hatching, the eggs are buried in sand to simulate natural conditions and ensure that baby tortoises can dig upward and outward, a capability that bodes well for future robustness. Until the young tortoises are two years old, they’re placed in cages to offer protection against rats. By five, they’re in open-air enclosures, having received microchips that will track their movements once released into the wild.

And that, after all, is the ultimate goal, to repopulate the Galapagos with one of its most iconic species. Already, several hundred adults have been reintroduced to Espanola, an island particularly hard-hit by wave of threats over the decades. But the long-term prognosis is murky, especially as the invasive species that predate upon tortoises continue to grow in numbers. One option is to bolster the invasive species eradication efforts; another is that the animals will merely live the first few years of their lives in controlled conditions. But for now, the stabilization of the Giant Tortoise population is a victory in itself, a promising example of how conservation efforts can bring an organism back from the brink. As human impact on the unique Galapagos ecosystems increases, the model of tortoise rehab may prove useful in protecting other species from extinction, allowing the islands to maintain their unique treasure trove of biodiversity.

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Abu Dhabi’s sea turtle nesting sites


This video is about hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean.

From Wildlife Extra:

Abu Dhabi’s islands could gain global recognition as important marine turtle nesting sites

April 2014: Abu Dhabi’s Bu Tinah and Zirku Islands could soon become recognised around the world as important marine turtle nesting sites. The country’s Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has submitted a proposal to the Indian Ocean and South East Asia (IOSEA) MoU Secretariat to include the two islands in their network.

The critically endangered Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the endangered Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) can be found in Abu Dhabi’s waters and nest on at least 17 offshore islands from mid-March to mid-June. The EAD’s aerial and field survey findings indicate that about 5,750 sea turtles inhabit Abu Dhabi’s waters during the winter season and 6,900 during the summer season.

“Our marine environment is a treasured part of our heritage, our past, our present and our future. Furthermore, marine turtles and their habitats are key indicators of the health of our environment and so this is why, at EAD, we have been closely studying, monitoring and protecting them since 1999,” said Thabit Zahran Al Abdessalaam, EAD’s Senior Advisor on Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity.

“By having Bu Tinah and Zirku Islands included in the IOSEA Marine Turtle Site Network, this will help ensure their long-term conservation. It will also yield a range of socio-economic benefits for the local community in the Western Region, as conservation also means cleaner coastal waters, protecting the habitat used as nursery grounds for seafood species that support commercial and subsistence fisheries, and the overall protection of mangrove and reef habitat to reduce threats from coastal hazards.”

The two islands will be evaluated by the Secretariat, which is part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, who will take into consideration different factors including their ecological and biological significance, their governance as well as their regional and global representation.

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Young loggerhead turtles, new research


This video from the USA is called Loggerhead sea turtles hatching. Sebastian, Florida.

From Wildlife Extra:

Young turtles seek warmer climes

March 2014: New study shows where young loggerhead sea turtles disappear to during their ‘lost years’.

Once baby turtles have successfully hatched and made the risky journey to the sea they are rarely seen until they have grown till 40cm, between seven and 12 years later. Yet what happens to them during this period scientists call the ‘lost years’ has remained a mystery until now.

To solve the mystery a team of scientists, led by Katherine Mansfield of the University of Central Florida, attached solar-powered transmitters to 17 turtles collected from nests along the south-east coast of Florida. The team reared the turtles in the laboratory until they were 11-18cm long before releasing them in the Gulf Stream off the Floridian coast.

They were then tracked for between 27 and 220 days as they travelled distances from 200 to more than 4300km. The scientists found that they all headed north and remained within or close to the Gulf Stream and tended to travel in clockwise direction around the circular North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre currents.

Some turtles however did move out of these Gyre currents into the centre; an area called the Sargrasso sea. The team suggest that this could be linked to the seasonal drift of Sargassum, a type of macro-algae that floats in large mats and to take advantage of the habitat they offer, in particular the warmth the mats trap at the water surface close to them.

For young turtles, staying warm is of upmost importance. Warmer temperatures help their skeletons grow quicker, making them increasingly less vulnerable.

Therefore the team suggest that where these young turtles headed could have been closely linked to where they could find warmer habitats to boost their growth so that once they are large enough they can return to the coast much less vulnerable than when they left as hatchlings.

Three new turtle and tortoise books for kids encourage adventures: here.

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Red-eared slider turtle underwater, video


This is a video about a red-eared slider turtle.

Diver Jos van Zijl made this video in the Netherlands.

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Greek loggerhead sea turtle news


This video from the USA is called Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatching 8-7-10 Gulf Shores Alabama.

From seaturtle.org:

Satellite Tracking

Jairo

Movements and distribution of loggerheads from Mesolongi Lagoon, Greece 2013

A project of ARCHELON.

Species: Loggerhead
Life Stage: Adult
Gender: Male
Release Date: 2013-07-20 12:00:00
Release Location: Mesolongi
Last Location: 2014-02-14 20:52:53

Background

Jairo is named in honour of the Costa Rican sea turtle researcher that needlessly lost his life to murderous thugs while protecting the turtles he was so passionate about.

This was the fourth turtle to receive a satellite tag in Mesolongi Lagoon and the only one that was developed enough to be definitely a male. At 83cm long this was also the largest turtle to get a satellite tag.

Jairo was ‘living local’, then headed 140km south to stay a while off the shores of the SW Peloponnese. Remarkably he has since returned to within 1km of where he was first captured!

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New plant species discovery on Caribbean island


This video says about itself:

26 Dec 2013

I was lucky to see these Leatherback turtles hatching on Zeelandia beach, St. Eustatius.

And here are the sequels to the first video.

From BioNews:

New Plant Species on St. Eustatius

23rd Jan 2014

ST. EUSTATIUS — The ongoing study of the vascular plant flora of St. Eustatius by STENAPA and the University of Puerto Rico has resulted in the discovery of a new species never described before by science, named Gonolobus aloiensis; the genus name coming from the Greek ‘gonos’ (seed) and Latin ‘lobus’ (pod) and the species name from ’Aloi’, the Arawak name for St. Eustatius, meaning cashew tree.

So new it still lacks a common name, Gonolobus aloiensis can be described as a vine from the climbing milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). It is endemic to St. Eustatius and its discovery represents the first record of this genus for the island, expanding the endemic biodiversity of St. Eustatius with yet another species and proving that even on our small Dutch Caribbean islands, not all biodiversity has been charted yet.

The plant can be easily distinguished from the six other Lesser Antillean Gonolobus species by its shorter and narrower lobes and the presence of ‘glandular hairs’, or trichomes, on the top two-thirds of the lobes.

The Gonolobus genus is comprised of an estimated 100 – 150 species. On the Lesser Caribbean islands, around ten species of Gonolobus can be found, all endemic to the region of which eight are single island endemics. Now a ninth can be added to that list. Only occurring inside the Quill volcano crater rim, this newly discovered species has just surpassed the Statia Morning Glory as the rarest plant species within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Since its habitat, the walls of a dormant volcano crater, is hardly accessible, at the moment it is not possible to estimate the exact population size of G. aloiensis for conservation purposes. Possible threats include the goats that roam about the crater and the unlikely eruption of the volcano. However unlikely, at eruption the entire population of G. aloiensis would be wiped out. Therefore the authors recommend attempts be made to grow G. aloiensis in botanical gardens to ensure its preservation. To begin with, STENAPA will try to cultivate it in the Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden on St. Eustatius.

Source: Krings, A.; Axelrod, F.S. (2013) Gonolobus aloiensis (Apocynaceae, Asclepiadoideae), a New Species from St. Eustatius. Systematic Botany 38(4): 1132–1137.

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Leatherback turtles, new study


This video says about itself:

Leatherback Turtles 21 May 2013

These two Leatherback Turtles were observed feeding on Moon Jellies approximately 8 nautical miles Southwest of Mexico Beach, FL. It was amazing how they allowed me to swim within 4 feet of them for about 9 minutes as they fed on Moon Jellies.

From The Robesonian in the USA today:

UNCP professor leads study to help protect leatherbacks

20 hours ago

A blockbuster scientific study that tracked ocean-going leatherback turtles may help save the endangered reptiles whose numbers have plummeted as commercial fishing continues to take a toll.

John Roe, a biology professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and reptile expert, is the lead author of a satellite-tracking study that began more than two decades ago and included 15 scientists from leading universities and institutes. The study tracked 135 leatherback turtles as they trekked across the Pacific Ocean. It was released online on Jan. 8 by The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences) of London and will be published in print form on Feb. 22.

The leatherback population has declined by 90 percent since 1980 due in large part to longline fishing vessels hauling them in as “bycatch.” Using GPS to track the travels of the world’s largest ocean-going turtle, it may be possible to untangle them from the multi-billion dollar fishing industry, Roe said.

“The high profile of this paper helps the turtles’ cause; it’s a huge industrial issue,” Roe said. “It’s an important study, and many conservation groups are behind it.”

The study represents “the largest compilation of satellite-derived position estimates with fisheries information to predict times and locations of bycatch risk for any species of marine vertebrate.” Roe analyzed huge volumes of data, which gives “strong evidence of predictable time and location of leatherback movements” all of which “make the problem of leatherback bycatch more manageable.”

Some of the participating scientists work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s living marine resources and their habitat.

Leatherback turtles travel thousands of miles to and from nesting sites, and their movements are predictable,” Roe said. “They follow jellyfish, their sole food source, and fishermen follow similar patterns.”

It’s difficult to get data from the industry on leatherbacks hooked on longlines, but fishermen do not intentionally catch the large turtles, which can damage their equipment.

The study, which began in 1992 and ran through 2008, is a remarkable cooperative effort among many groups who tag turtles, according to Roe.

“Knowing that many people are putting satellite transmitters on turtles, we were able to collaborate with them to get a better picture of what’s going on in the ocean,” he said.

Universities represented in the ongoing research are UNCP, Indian-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Cornell, Duke, Stanford, Maryland and Drexel. Institutes participating were NOAA and the Leatherback Turtle Conservation Trust. Funding came from the Lenfest Oceans Program of the Pew Charitable Trust, the tagging of Pacific Pelagics Program, Drexel’s Betz Endowment and the Schrey Endowment of Indiana-Purdue.

Several leading international turtle scientists were co-authors, including the study’s senior scientist James Spotila of Drexel, Stephen Morreale of Cornell, and Frank Paladino of Indiana-Purdue, who is Roe’s mentor.

“I was able to maintain a relationship with this group from my time as a post-doctoral fellow,” Roe said. “I pushed the study forward and crunched the numbers.”

As lead author, Roe is also the spokesman for the paper, and interest in the study has been high. Thus far, BBC News, Nature World and Science Daily have reported on it. Roe has done an interview with WHYY, Philadelphia public radio.

Roe said acquiring more data would narrow the field of collisions between turtles and fishing vessels. A related study of leatherbacks in the Atlantic will be published online in the coming months.

“Turtles and whales are in the spotlight globally,” Roe said. “There has been success in some areas like shrimping on the East Coast of the Atlantic where turtle excluder devices have been incorporated in nets. But leatherbacks are not coastal turtles and remain in deep water, which makes regulation more difficult.”

The study identified hot spots of conflict. In the eastern Pacific, leatherbacks are at the highest risk in the South Pacific Gyre, an enormous ocean eddy past the Galapagos Islands and south of the equator. In the western Pacific, the highest potential for bycatch is near nesting beaches of northwest New Guinea.

In Pembroke, Roe stays busy with his students tracking box turtles, a terrestrial species that is North Carolina’s state reptile. Roe, who joined UNCP’s faculty in 2010, earned his doctorate from the University of Canberra, Australia. He has studied turtles and snakes Down Under, across the Pacific and from Michigan to North Carolina.

“I expect to have some papers on box turtles ready for publication in a year, and I am looking at some turtles of conservation concern in the Lumber River,” he said. “There is no shortage of interesting reptiles.”

See also here.

The last large populations of the leatherback turtle are at risk because their migratory routes in the Atlantic Ocean clash with the locations of industrial fisheries, a new study shows: here.

The Definitive Ranking Of Animals Riding On Turtles: here.

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Galapagos tortoises and island ecology


This is a video of the Galápagos tortoise from the BBC’s Life in Cold Blood documentary series.

From Discover magazine:

We Discovered Too Late That Tortoises Are Expert Landscapers

By Elizabeth Preston | January 27, 2014 10:00 am

Countless biology students have dutifully learned to associate the Galapagos Islands with finches. Here Darwin noticed that birds on different islands had different beak shapes, and ta-da, theory of evolution. But galápago is Spanish for “tortoise,” and young Darwin also learned from watching these huge reptiles lumber across the archipelago. Today, the galápagos are only a fraction of their former population. And as they’ve disappeared, the landscape of the islands has transformed—because although Darwin didn’t know it, the tortoises were driving the evolution of an entire ecosystem.

The story starts before Darwin ever reached the Pacific island chain. So to get details from a time before naturalists were taking notes, Swansea University ecologist Cynthia Froyd and her colleagues searched a different set of records: fossilized tortoise poop.

There used to be 100,000 to 250,000 tortoises living and relieving themselves in the Galapagos. Those numbers dropped after European settlers arrived in the 16th century—the slow-moving giants were eaten, hunted for oil, and tormented by invasive egg-eating rats. By the 1970s their numbers had dropped to 14,000 or fewer.

Now Galapagos tortoises are being reintroduced to the islands. But has the ecosystem changed in their absence? Froyd wondered specifically about the islands’ highest points. These areas are mostly empty of tortoises today, even though the animals are known to travel to higher ground for water during the dry season.

Froyd took sediment samples at lofty bogs on the island of Santa Cruz. (This island is also called Indefatigable, like a tortoise climbing an 800-meter volcano.) These bogs are packed with moss, surrounded by lush vegetation, and frequently covered in a cold, thick mist called garúa.

The researchers scoured the ancient mud samples for fossilized fungus spores, pollen, and plant remains. At all three of their sample sites, they found “dung-affiliated” fungi—species that grow on the droppings of herbivores. This was a clue that a large plant-eater used to live and poop at those spots. Judging by radiocarbon dating, the animal had lived in the bogs for thousands of years, but disappeared around 500 years ago. Dung-rich areas were also full of plant pollen, as from the gut of a grazer. All signs pointed to the Galapagos tortoise, the only large herbivore around. (There’s also an “extinct giant rice rat” that could have left enough dung, the authors note, but it wasn’t known to hang out in swamps.)

When the researchers collected fresh tortoise dung and examined it in the lab, they saw similar patterns of fungus to those in their ancient samples. The same was true of sediment samples taken from a pond where tortoises still live today.

At the same time the dung fungi disappeared, about 500 years ago, certain plant species disappeared from the dirt samples too. The plants that vanished were those that prefer a muddy, churned-up environment—like the home tortoises would have provided as they trampled and sloshed through a wetland. Some of these plant species are now rare or extinct in the Galapagos.

All this evidence added up to tell a story: Tortoises used to cover Santa Cruz Island, from the coasts to the highlands. At the top of the island they wallowed in wetlands with open ponds or lakes. Here they drank, grazed on plants, and kept their bodies cool. Then, around the time humans settled on the island, the turtles left the highlands. It’s still not clear why—their reduced numbers from hunting may have meant less competition from other tortoises, and thus less need to travel for water. There might also have been a shift in the island’s climate that discouraged tortoises from hiking the volcano.

As tortoises left the wetlands, they filled in and became peat bogs dense enough to walk on. Other plant species that had lived there were choked out. Open, freshwater wetlands became rare all across the Galapagos. Charcoal found in the soil samples suggests that as tortoises munched away less of Santa Cruz’s plant material, fires may have become more common too.

Today humans are bringing tortoises back to the islands—though with 5 of the original 14 subspecies now extinct, those tortoises aren’t always the same ones that lived there in the past. The results at Santa Cruz show that just replacing the missing animals won’t turn back the clock. Globally, Froyd says, “we may be missing some of the impacts that past loss of large herbivores has had on ecosystems.” Conservation scientists around the world can learn from the tortoises that when even one animal species leaves, it may carry an entire ecosystem on its back.

When in the Galapagos, Charles Darwin and his Beagle chums ate a couple of dozen giant tortoises, tossing their empty shells over board en route to Tahiti. But in his Narrative of the voyage, captain Robert FitzRoy made it clear that a few small tortoises had survived. “Several were brought alive to England,” he wrote: here.

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Underwater wildlife in a Dutch city


This video is about underwater wildlife research in Leiden, the Netherlands.

The city of Leiden is along the Rhine river, and has many canals as well.

Weekly Witte Weekblad reports about underwater wildlife in Leiden.

It includes two rare threatened fish species: eel and freshwater bullrout.

Other fish species: northern pike, common roach, bream, carp and tench.

Introduced species in Leiden include red swamp crayfish; and Orconectes limosus, another North American crayfish. And Chinese mitten crab.

Cumberland turtles and other turtles also occur in Leiden waters.

Here is a website about underwater wildlife research in Leiden.

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Leatherback turtles satellite tags research


This video from Puerto Rico says about itself:

Leatherback Turtle Nesting in Daylight on Vieques – Very Rare! (subtítulos CC en español)

3 April 2012

This leatherback sea turtle was filmed nesting during the day at Navío beach on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

Daytime nesting is very rare for this endangered species. The eggs were transported by the DNRA up the beach, away from the waterline.

This beach has an ever shifting coastline because of the direction it faces and many times large sections of sand are washed away overnight with a good storm.

From the Cornell Chronicle in the USA:

Jan. 21, 2014

Satellite tags, fishing data reveal turtle danger zones

By Krishna Ramanujan

One of the biggest threats to critically endangered leatherback turtles is bycatch from industrial fishing in the open oceans.

Now, a team of researchers has satellite-tracked 135 leatherbacks with transmitters to determine the turtles’ patterns of movement in the Pacific Ocean. Combined with fisheries data, the researchers entered the information into a computer model to predict bycatch hotspots in the Pacific.

With this information, researchers and authorities hope to work with fisheries managers to avoid fishing when and where there is higher risk of also catching turtles in the area.

Though the ocean is vast and the turtles’ movements are dynamic and unpredictable, the small chance of an individual leatherback getting hooked or caught in fishing lines is multiplied by 760 million in the Pacific Ocean alone, said Stephen Morreale, referring to the number of longline hooks set annually in the Pacific. Morreale is a Cornell senior research associate and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and a co-author of the study published online Jan. 7 in the Proceedings of [the] Royal Society B.

“It’s a waste,” he said. “This is not a case of people trying merely trying to feed their families. The fishing industry does not want to catch leatherbacks, and the turtles that are caught are just discarded.”

In the Pacific, the researchers identified two genetically distinct populations, one western Pacific population that nests in Indonesia and feeds off the California coast, and another eastern Pacific population that nests in Costa Rica and Mexico and migrates along a corridor past the Galapagos Islands to a broad pelagic zone known as the South Pacific Gyre.

The maps reveal seasonal and geographic areas of greatest risk. For the western Pacific nesting populations, areas of highest risk included water around the Indonesian Islands near primary nesting beaches, and for the eastern Pacific populations, areas of greatest risk were in the South Pacific Gyre.

Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are the largest sea turtles and the most massive reptile, reaching maximum weights of close to 2,000 pounds. The leathery-shelled turtles, which feed on jellyfish, use their flippers like wings to swim vast distances at surprising speeds; they also dive to depths of 1,200 meters, shuttling to and from the surface to breathe.

Once they hatch, males spend their entire lifetimes in the water. They take up to 20 years to reach maturity. As adults, females return throughout their lifetimes to the same nesting beach to lay clutches of 80 to 100 eggs in the sand, which they may repeat every two weeks over the course of a nesting season. Once they have laid all their eggs, they may not return for three to five years.

Because of the many risks over decades that leatherbacks face before they reach maturity, “an adult’s [ecological] value is huge,” said Morreale. Also, since so little has been known about their movements once they enter the ocean, conservationists have historically focused on protecting beach areas where they can be monitored and protected.

But “their protection at sea is extremely important,” and only recently, through satellite transmitters, are researchers beginning to understand the turtles’ complex habits in the ocean, which will hopefully lead to better protection, said Morreale.

Next steps for this research include acquiring more Pacificwide data for interactions between fisheries and turtles, as well as data for the Atlantic Ocean, Morreale added.

John Roe, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke, was the paper’s lead author, along with Morreale and Frank Paladino at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, while Drexel University professor James Spotila assembled the research team.

Funding was provided mainly by the Lenfest Oceans Program.

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