Sea Turtles Often Get Lost for Miles, but Always Find Their Destination
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
When baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs, they skitter across the sand to the shoreline before disappearing into the open ocean. Many years later, by some remarkable feat, female turtles find their way back, sometimes traveling thousands of kilometers, to arrive at the exact beach where they were born. This time, it's to lay their own eggs.
It's believed that turtles use the Earth's geomagnetic field to find their way, but there is still a lot that's unknown about this process. A team of scientists, who published a new paper in Current Biology this month, used satellite tracking to study the navigation skills of female green turtles (Chelonia mydas). They found that while green turtles eventually arrived at their preferred destination, they didn't always get there with pinpoint accuracy, but followed a kind of "crude map."
A green turtle in Martinque. Michelle Roux / Coral Reef Image Bank
"I think we had this idea that turtles were running on rails, and that they had some sort of fine scale navigational ability," Alex Rattray, co-author of the paper and research fellow at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Deakin University in Australia, told Mongabay. "But what we found out is that they make mistakes, they miss their targets, they overshoot the targets, and they do a lot of searching."
Nesting grounds aren't the only locations sea turtles habitually return to — they also return to the same foraging grounds. In fact, another study found that migrating sea turtles were so loyal to their preferred foraging locations that they would bypass other suitable places to forage while searching for their "home" site. Green turtles, in particular, demonstrate a very high fidelity to foraging grounds, and do not stop anywhere else during open-ocean crossings, according to the study, which makes the species an ideal subject matter.
The research team collected data by fitting satellite trackers to 35 sea turtles nesting on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The trackers transmitted high-accuracy Fastloc-GPS location data several times each day. Once the turtles laid their eggs, they returned to the ocean to travel to their foraging grounds off the coasts of small, isolated islands. But most of the time, the turtles did not get there directly, sometimes traveling several hundred kilometers off course before reaching their destination.
"We were also surprised at the distance that some turtles migrated," Graeme Hays, lead author of the study and the Alfred Deakin professor of marine science at Deakin University, said in a statement. "Six tracked turtles travelled more than 4,000 kilometers [2,500 miles] to the east African coast, from Mozambique in the south, to as far north as Somalia. So, these turtles complete round-trip migrations of more than 8,000 kilometers [5,000 miles] to and from their nesting beaches in the Chagos Archipelago."
While the green turtles traveled via circuitous routes, the study showed that they do have the ability to navigate vast swaths of the ocean, and to reorient themselves when astray.
"None of these turtles got irrevocably lost," Rattray said. "They all eventually found a way home. One of the turtles … [traveled off course] about 200 kilometers [120 miles] south of its destination after one month, and then spent another two months finding its way back to its target after it'd overshot it.
Green sea turtle. Greg Asner
"They're amazing creatures," he added, "and they truly are the number one navigators in the world."
Green turtles are an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Primary threats include fishing net entanglement, habitat degradation, boat strikes, and egg harvesting. However, due to global conservation efforts, green turtle populations appear to be slowly rebounding.
Rattray said the team hopes its findings will help inform efforts to protect larger areas of the ocean, encompassing both the nesting and foraging grounds of sea turtles.
"Diego Garcia is a marine protected area … but they [female green turtles] are only there about 10% of their lives," Rattray said. "The rest of the time, they don't respect national boundaries. So, the conservation future of these turtles relies on the efforts of 12 to 15 governments. There has to be a concerted effort throughout the rest of the turtle's life cycle to protect them in some way."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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