In case you missed it, the Great Turtle Race - indeed, it sounds like an oxymoron - took place this week.
Researchers tagged and tracked critically endangered leatherback turtles as they made their way through the ocean currents of the South Pacific, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
While biologists had fun clocking the speeds of their hopeful winners, the real focus was on conservation. The article says the population of leatherbacks has declined by more than 90 percent in the past 20 years and they now face extinction.
Though they have managed to survive 100 million years, leatherbacks are now in trouble due to environmental threats such as floating plastic bags. They mistake the bags for jellyfish, which they eat, causing them to suffocate. In addition, turtles are caught as bycatch by commercial fisheries, and people harvest precious turtle eggs by the thousands from nests, according to the article.
Mystery surrounds the creatures, as little is known about their migratory routes or how they navigate southward. Biologists are hoping the fun of the race will attract attention, which will turn into action.
George L. Shillinger, a graduate student at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, is quoted: "Awareness translates into political action, the kind of action that puts pressure on governments and maritime industries, and the public, too, to stop the killing because at this point, even on that nesting beach in Costa Rica, the turtles are losing their beach."
Shillinger has gone to a beach called Playa Grande in Costa Rica's Las Baulas National Park, an important nesting ground for leatherbacks, for four years to attach radio transmitter tags on the turtle's backs. Watch the researchers at work:
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