Young turtles surf the ocean currents.

6 March 2010

A new study suggests newly hatched leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) born on beaches in Costa Rica ride fast and seasonal currents. Understanding where young turtles swim during the first stage of their life could help conservationist to preserve them.

Leatherback turtles are facing extinction in the eastern Pacific Ocean and are most vulnerable in their early life stages. Birds and small mammals dig up the nests of turtles and consume eggs. Shorebirds prey on the hatchings hustling to reach the sea. Once in the water, they become prey to fish and cephalopods.

Marine biologists still know very little about their dangerous first months of life as they are too small for satellite tracking. Instead of following young turtles, scientists followed ocean currents and designed a computer simulation of currents near Costa Rica beaches where turtles lay their eggs.

Knowing more about turtle earliest migration routes may help in protecting the species, by keeping fishing boats away from these routes. However, currents are certainly only one factor, young turtles and their small fins could play an active role in determining their directions in the oceans.