Turtles on track in Great Race

Satellite trackers strapped on the backs of 11 female leatherback turtles provide the location of the animals in the race from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to the Galapagos Islands.

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Only the two leader turtles have broken away from the pack, while two of the gentle giants still haven’t left the shallows of their starting point.

Sponsored by US and Costa Rican environmental groups and businesses, the race, which aims to raise awareness of the endangered species, can be monitored online.

Environmentalists say 90 per cent of leatherbacks turtles have vanished and the species may disappear within 10 years due to illegal poaching of their eggs along Latin American coasts, ocean contamination and development near their nesting grounds.

Most of the competing turtles hit the water after laying their eggs on the beach at Playa Grande in Costa Rica, they will cover 2,000 kilometres to get to their destination, where they feed on jellyfish.

Reaching more than 1.8 metres and weighing as much as 900 kilograms, the leatherbacks are the world’s largest turtles and range throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans from Alaska as far south as the Cape of Good Hope.

Scores migrate to Playa Grande to lay their eggs each year, but Las Baulas Marine Park officials said only 58 female leatherbacks arrived this year, down from 124 in 2006.

Scientists estimate that worldwide, the female population has fallen from an estimated 115,000 in 1980 to fewer than 43,000 today. Besides various threats to their habitat, the leatherback population is threatened by floating plastic bags or sheets which they mistake for jellyfish.

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