The site where Europes spacecraft are launched into orbit, the Atlantic shoreline of French Guiana, is also the starting point for another hardly less remarkable journey: the epic migration of the critically endangered leatherback turtle.
Scientists have been using tracking sensors to follow the long treks of individual leatherbacks, then overlaying their routes with sea state data, including near-real time maps of ocean currents gathered by satellites including ESAs ERS-2 and now Envisat.
They are working to uncover connections between the apparently meandering routes followed by turtles and the local ocean conditions, and so develop strategies to minimise the unintended but deadly threat posed to leatherbacks by deep-sea fishing.
These giant reptiles - known to reach 2.1 metres in length and weigh in at 365 kg - briefly come ashore to lay their eggs on beaches across French Guiana and neighbouring Suriname, the turtles last remaining major nesting sites in the Atlantic Ocean. Around nine weeks later the hatchlings emerge en masse and head into the sea, one day to return when they reach maturity and lay eggs themselves.
Mariangela D’Acunto | alfa
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