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World’s largest leatherback sea turtle population identified

Washington, May 18 (ANI): In a new research, an international team of scientists has identified the world’s largest leatherback sea turtle population in Gabon, West Africa.

The research involved country-wide land and aerial surveys that estimated a population of between 15,730 and 41,373 female turtles using the nesting beaches.

It highlights the importance of conservation work to manage key sites and protected areas in Gabon.

Leatherbacks are of profound conservation concern around the world after populations in the Indo-Pacific crashed by more than 90 percent in the 1980s and 1990s.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists leatherback turtles as critically endangered globally, but detailed population assessments in much of the Atlantic, especially Africa, are lacking.

The research was led by the University of Exeter working in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which spearheads the Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership, a network of organizations concerned with the protection of marine turtles in Gabon.

During three nesting seasons between 2002 and 2007, the research team’s members carried out the most comprehensive survey of marine turtles ever conducted in Gabon.

This involved aerial surveys along Gabon’s 600 km (372 mile) coast, using video to capture footage for evaluation, and detailed ground-based monitoring.

By covering the entire coastline, they were not only able to estimate the number of nests and nesting females, but also to identify the key sites for leatherback nesting, data which are crucial to developing conservation management plans for the species.

Leatherbacks were first described nesting in Gabon in 1984.

According to the lead author on the paper, Dr Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter, “We knew that Gabon was an important nesting site for leatherback turtles but until now had little idea of the size of the population or its global ranking.”

“We are now focusing our efforts on working with local agencies to coordinate conservation efforts to ensure this population is protected against the threats from illegal fisheries, nest poaching, pollution and habitat disturbance, and climate change,” he said.

“These findings show the critical importance of protected areas to maintain populations of sea turtles,” said Dr Angela Formia of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Gabon should be commended for creating a network of National Parks in 2002 that have provided a sanctuary for this endangered species as well as other rare wildlife,” she added. (ANI)

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