Loggerhead sea turtles tend to visit the same three feeding grounds year after year, traveling to the Adriatic region, Tunisian Plateau, and the eastern Mediterranean, according to a new study that examined 25 years of satellite tracking data. As threats to the species increase, scientists say the findings offer policymakers and conservation groups much-needed guidance as to which marine sites should be prioritized for protection.
The study found that nearly half of nesting loggerheads from Cyprus, for example, go to the Tunisian Plateau to feed. The region, off the northern coast of Africa, is “known to have some of the highest turtle bycatch (accident catch by humans fishing) in the world,” Julia Haywood, an ecologist at the University of Exeter and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The satellite data, which tracked populations of loggerheads from nesting grounds in Greece and Cyprus, found the turtles did not adjust their foraging sites even as threats worsened. A growing fishing industry off the coast of Africa has led to an increase in accidental turtle captures by trawlers, longlines, and gill nets. According to the conservation group the Society for the Protection of Turtles in North Cyprus (SPOT), at least 10,000 turtles die as accidental bycatch off North Africa each year, and there remains an illegal turtle meat industry.
The study, published in the journal Biodiversity Research, “allows prioritization of conservation resources to specific threats in specific areas,” says Robin Snape, of SPOT.