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Endangered turtles' trek along ocean currents revealed by satellite

line fishermen hundreds of thousands of such hooks are deployed daily across the Atlantic.

Ongoing 'bycatching' of leatherbacks by fishermen has left the 100-million-year-old species on the brink of extinction in the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Atlantic their numbers are higher partly due to a ban on longline US fishermen operating in the Ocean's northern section - but the turtles are still being lost at an unsustainable rate.

A paper was recently published in Nature summarising the work done so far in tracking leatherbacks through the Atlantic, submitted by a team of researchers from France's National Centre for Scientific Research in Strasbourg, neighbouring Louis Pasteur University, the French Guiana Regional Department of the Environment and the company Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS) in Ramonville, specialising in satellite-based systems for location-finding, data collection and Earth Observation.

Pacific leatherbacks follow narrow migration corridors. Researchers hoped that if their Atlantic counterparts acted in the same way then fishing could be restricted across these zones.

Starting in 1999 individual turtles were tracked using the CLS-run Argos system, based on radio-emitting tags whose position can be tracked worldwide to a maximum accuracy of 150 metres. Six American NOAA spacecraft currently carry Argos receivers, with ESA's MetOp series due to join the system following their initial satellite launch next year.

The turtles' tracks were then overlaid with maps of sea level anomalies obtained by merging data with the radar altimeter aboard ESA's ERS-2 with another aboard the NASA-CNES satellite TOPEX-Poseidon.

ERS-2, like its successor Envisat, is part of the select group of satellites equipped with a Radar Altimeter (RA) instrument. By firing thousands of radar pulses off the surface of the sea every second extremely precise o
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.d'acunto@esa.int
39 06 941 80 856
European Space Agency
4-Aug-2004


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