Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and U.S. Olympic Swimming Champs Dive In to Save Sea Turtles
Conservation International and National Geographic Combine Science, Celebrity Talent and Action-Packed Fun to Help Protect Endangered Leatherbacks in ‘Great Turtle Race’
Arlington, VA (April 16, 2009) – Conservation International (CI) today announced the launch of the “Great Turtle Race,” a virtual “race” that follows 11 real leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) on an epic journey from feeding areas in chilly waters off Canada’s Atlantic coast to breeding areas in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean. Race fans can see the action online at www.GreatTurtleRace.org, created in partnership with NationalGeographic.com, which puts the spotlight on one of today’s most iconic animal species and what can be done to protect them.
As the turtles ride the waves to be the first to reach the finish line by April 29, they will be cheered on by celebrity sponsors including rock bands Pearl Jam and R.E.M., and ‘coached’ by Olympic swimmers Amanda Beard, Aaron Peirsol, Janet Evans, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Eric Shanteau, who will also provide race commentary. NBC announcer and Olympic athlete Rowdy Gaines, “The Voice of Swimming,” will serve as official commentator and will be “calling” the race in daily online updates issued by CI. The eclectic group of Great Turtle Race supporters also includes surfers, schools, sea turtle biologists and nongovernmental groups.
“The magic of the Great Turtle Race is that it puts actual data from migrating sea turtles into a captivating, fun-filled format that draws attention to important biological research and inspires people to act on behalf of ocean conservation,” said CI Vice President Roderic Mast.
“The fate of sea turtles, the global marine environment and humanity itself are inextricably tied to the choices we make today,” said Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, an advocate for saving turtles and their marine habitats. “Pearl Jam is happy to be a part of the Great Turtle Race, and we are encouraging all our fans and friends to join the fun, cheer on our turtle, Backspacer, and help save the seas.”
National Geographic will host the race at www.GreatTurtleRace.org in collaboration with CI. The Great Turtle Race site will feature a “race” map that follows the real journey of each turtle during the two-week race. Daily updates will feature guest bloggers, such as swim and surf champions, marine scientists and conservationists. Visitors can also play the Great Turtle Race online game and compete to dominate each week’s leaderboard. The Great Turtle Race coincides with the release of National Geographic magazine’s May issue, which contains a feature article on leatherback turtles by National Geographic Executive Editor Tim Appenzeller, with photos by award-winning photographer Brian Skerry.
This year’s Great Turtle Race event builds on the success of the first Great Turtle Race in 2007 that featured 11 female leatherbacks making their way from Costa Rica to the Galáagos Islands. This year, both male and female turtles are on the official race roster competing in what Rowdy Gaines reports “will be a grueling marathon of more than 6,000 km. But the event is more than just a race to the finish line; the turtles will also face off in a series of mini-challenges such as the Deepest Dive competition. Even more to the point, this race extends far beyond the April 29 finish — the true race is one for survival, one that we all impact and one that has no certain end.”
Leatherbacks are spectacular animals that have been swimming Earth’s oceans since dinosaurs roamed the land. They can weigh more than half a ton, can dive more than a half a mile deep, and have the widest geographic range of any reptile. Currently, leatherbacks, like all sea turtles, are threatened by human actions such as incidental capture in fisheries (termed “bycatch&rdquo, consumption of their eggs, coastal development and ingestion of plastic debris. Leatherback populations have declined dramatically in some parts of the world, such as the eastern Pacific, where their numbers have decreased more than 90 percent over the past two decades.
The data providing the realistic basis to the racing turtles come from satellite transmitters that were put on each turtle by experts from the Canadian Sea Turtle Network based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These devices are providing data to help conservationists better understand how turtles use different marine environments across their basin-wide range. The Great Turtle Race will raise funds to protect important nesting and feeding habitats and will raise awareness about what we can all do — no matter where we live — to help protect sea turtles and their habitats.
“Although it remains to be seen whether the old adage about turtles, that ‘slow and steady wins the race,’ will hold in this case, we are optimistic that the event will convey that leatherbacks are going faster than we think,” said Mast. “There’s no time to waste in making responsible decisions that will ensure healthy oceans full of leatherbacks for generations to come.”
Scientists have finally found me out. They've conducted the largest multi-year study of leatherback sea turtles (like myself) in the Pacific, and learned a lot! Read about the results they found and how you can help!
I haven't written for while as I'm taking a break after my big celebrity breakthrough as the Great Turtle Race commentator, but I wanted to share this news story with you before I go back out into the Pacific with all the newly-returned lady turtles.
I kind of take my distinctive firm leathery shell for granted, but not all turtles have hard shells like mine (not to mention my good looks!). One of my endangered freshwater cousins, for example.
The Cantor's Giant Soft Shell Turtle has rubbery skin and fused ribs to protect his insides. These turtles spend most of their time hidden in sand or mud for protection from predators. I'll keep my shell, thanks! Of course, they can also strike faster than a cobra, so I guess that's some compensation.
Anyway, these turtles are very endangered (some people in Vietnam think they're a delicacy--ick!) and scientists were really worried about their extinction. But there's hope! A new nesting ground was found in Cambodia and human-friends in the area are working to protect the beach for these turtles.
We've had a lot of fun over the past two weeks of The Great Turtle Race. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to talk with all of you about leatherbacks like me - we're pretty amazing and beautiful creatures, huh?!
I'm very grateful to everyone who helped raise money to support Conservation International. They do a lot of important work to conserve the oceans and all the life within them... like me! So I'm especially happy to let you know that we raisedmore than our goal of $5,000!! Congratulations!
I want to give a special shout out to Kat, Kim, Corey, Kimber, Ninian, Rebecca, Jennifer, and Jacqueline, who raised a bunch of money through their widgets! You guys rock!!! Join me in giving them a big hand (especially since it's pretty hard to clap with flippers)!
If you haven't checked them out yet, Conservation International does a lot of great work for more than just us sea turtles. They are working to prevent climate change, to stop the illegal wildlife trade, and to provide practical solutions to environmental challenges. I'm a subscriber to their eNewsletter, and I love it...it's a great way to learn about what's going on and includes cool stories from the field, pictures and more. Go here to sign up for updates from Conservation International - every month you'll hear stories and get great tips on things you can do to protect the environment.
Well, thanks again to everyone who was part of The Great Turtle Race! I'll be posting a race wrap-up slideshow later today, and later this week I'll post some more tips for easy things that you can do to help sea turtles!
Congratulations again on making our campaign a success!!
In case you ever wondered... here I am in my office!
Earlier on Friday Stephanie Colburtle crossed into the finish zone, placing second in The Great Turtle Race. And although her honorary sponsor, Stephen Colbert, may not agree with the result, we can all agree that you swam a great race, Stephanie - congratulations!!
Just a mile behind her, Champiro stole the hotly contested third place spot, with an amazing come from behind swim that surprised her fans and race spectators!! She barely outplaced Turtleocity, who followed closely in 4th. Her swimming buddy Purple Lightning couldn't quite keep up, and is now trying to hold on to 5th place.
Just as Champiro tapped in to energy reserves to pull ahead into third yesterday, Saphira tired out, removing herself from medal contention in this year's race. She has now fallen into sixth!
What an exciting race. I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have!
Now that all the ladies are entering the finish zone, I thought I'd put together a slideshow to show you where they've been headed - the Galapagos Islands. They're an amazing place - you'll understand why these turtle ladies have been racing to get there! Check it out!
We're just a few days from the end of The Great Turtle Race, and still have a little ways to go before we reach our goal of raising $5,000 for Conservation International in order to get Stone Gossard to match our donations. Just before I wrote this post, I made a contribution to my widget to boost my numbers, and I hope you'll all do the same.
With dozens of people having widgets on their pages, if we all just contribute $20 to our own, we're sure to meet our goal – we're soooooo close that I hope you'll put us over the top.
I just updated Stone yesterday on the numbers, and he's really excited about all the support we've had, and is hoping we'll make it to our goal. It's really important that we support this work to protect leatherbacks and other threatened species around the world. Endangered animals like me aren't going to be around for much longer without some help from my human friends, so please, make a donation today to help save us. I'm grateful to all of you for your support and friendship, whether or not you choose to make a donation. Your personal commitment to saving my species means a lot to me, and to my fellow leatherbacks. Please be sure to check back later for an update on our progress and on the rest of The Great Turtle Race! Mr. Leatherback
Stephanie was the overwhelming favorite in yesterday's poll, followed by Purple Lightning and Billie with Drexelina and Windy tied for third. Thanks everyone who voted, I know the turtles appreciate your support! However, the winner of the 2007 Great Sea Turtle Race is....
At 08:30 (EST) this morning, BILLIE crossed into the finish zone as the winner of The Great Turtle Race! Congratulations, Billie, on an amazing swim!! Although not the largest or strongest lady in the bunch, Billie swam hard for 10 straight days, surprising her competitors with superb navigation and unparalleled endurance. Her exemplary performance was undoubtedly aided by billfish throughout the Pacific who rallied to support their turtle hero in the race.
I'll have an exclusive interview will Billie, so stay tuned tomorrow! The race isn't over yet...there's still ten turtles out there!
Stephanie Colburtle now seems to have a lock on second place, barring any unforeseen currents or wrong turns. She is now less than 30 miles away from the finish zone.
Third place, however, is still up in the air! Saphira, Purple Lightning, and Turtleocity are in a close battle for third, just a few miles apart… And although she may not be the winner of the race, Turtleocity secured a different honor yesterday, for the deepest dive! Hard to believe that anyturtle could outdo Tuesday's dives, but Turtleocity dove to an incredible 2,789 feet yesterday! Wow!
Although deep dives are not uncommon for us leatherbacks, the oceanographic information that these ladies have been gathering with their transmitters shows that this year is a La Niña year. This means that it's colder in shallower water than normal, bringing food closer to the surface and making us dive shallower than normal… So, Turtleocity's dive was especially unique, and a great display of athleticism!
Although Billie has secured victory in this year's Great Turtle Race, it's not over yet so be sure to check back as more turtles are crossing into the finish zone...
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