He says the tagged turtles have already provided important information since leaving their breeding beaches. "We've learned that they don't go directly south at the end of the nesting season, rather they all turned north to Chesapeake Bay or beyond," he added. "Their presence in inshore waters of the mid-Atlantic states highlights the importance of these zones as feeding areas."
The turtles migrating from the Cayman Islands to foraging grounds off Central and South America have also surprised scientists by their speed of travel.
Brendan Godley said: "Myles, who is migrating at the moment, has just reached Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. She swam due west, covering some 700 kilometers (435 miles) in a weekthat's 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) a day which is pretty good going. And as she's a green turtle, living mainly off sea grasses and algae, she wouldn't have eaten a bite during the crossing."
Myles is one of just a few dozen sea turtles that still nest on the Caymans. When Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1503, he named them "Las Tortugas"the Turtles. Green turtle numbers back then were estimated at over 6.5 million. The species later became central to the region's economy and culture. Their historical importance is still evident today, with green turtles featured on the islands' coat of arms and dollar bills. But by the 19th century commercial overexploitation had almost wiped them out.
This is mirrored in the collapse of turtle populations throughout the world. Conservationists identify habitat degradation due to coastal development, pollution, and exposure to toxins, accidental capture by fishermen, and collisions with commercial vessels and personal watercraft as being among the main modern-day threats to the animals.
Both the green turtle, which can weigh up to 205 kilograms (452 pounds), and the loggerhead turtle are now classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Researchers hope information gleaned from the satellite tracking project will help them conserve remaining populations.
For instance, Matthew Godfrey says The North Carolina Sea Turtle Project will now compare migratory routes taken by the Bald Head Island loggerheads with commercial fisheries in the region with a view to suggesting management measures to prevent harmful interactions.
In the meantime, turtle lovers everywhere can log on to the Web and find out just where Shellby and her fellow travelers are headed (see link at the bottom of this page).
More About Turtles
Photo Gallery of Endangered Turtles
Rare Two-Headed Tortoise Found in South Africa
Ichthyosaur's Turtle Supper Causes Extinction Debate
Saving Turtles by Taking Them off the Menu (with photos of some of the world's most endangered turtles)
Saving Sea Turtles With a Lights-Out Policy in Florida
Girl Scouts Help Scientist Conserve Turtles in U.S.
Leatherback Turtles Near Extinction, Experts Say
Can Network of Colonies Save Asia's Turtles?
China's Taste for Turtle Fuels Asian Crisis, Groups Say
Turtles Smuggled to China as Food Find Haven in U.S.
National Geographic Magazine Photos:
1930 image of bather "riding" on the back of a turtle in Australia
David Doubilet image of a green turtle
National Geographic Guide to Animals and Nature: Go>>
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES