A dynamic ocean management tool to reduce bycatch of critically endangered Eastern Pacific leatherbacks

South Pacific TurtleWatch (SPTW) is a new tool that has been created to predict the residence time—how long the individual stays in one location—of critically endangered Eastern Pacific leatherback sea turtles along the coast of Central and South America and on the high seas, in an effort to reduce bycatch mortality.

Scientists from Upwell and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science have developed a unique model that can predict on a monthly basis where Eastern Pacific leatherbacks are most likely to be residing. This tool will help inform managers, fishers and other stakeholders how to anticipate and prevent fisheries interactions, which is vital to ensuring the viability of this critically endangered leatherback population.

SPTW was created by combining satellite telemetry data and fisheries observations of leatherback turtles to develop a habitat-based model of their distribution. As a highly migratory species, management of leatherbacks requires an understanding of their year-round distribution in order to reduce fisheries bycatch both nearshore and offshore.

The Eastern Pacific leatherback sea turtle has declined over 97% since the 1980s and is listed as critically endangered at risk of regional extinction. They historically nested in Mexico and Costa Rica, and the loss from fisheries bycatch and egg poaching is the major reason for their decline. The SPTW tool aims to reduce fisheries bycatch and empower fishers with the knowledge of where leatherbacks are residing, in order to avoid incidental capture. The tool informs management strategies that help both leatherbacks and fishers.

Upwell will soon be hosting the SPTW tool here. This online resource will educate the public on the importance of protecting leatherback turtles while allowing access to the models predicting the locations of Eastern Pacific leatherbacks.

Please, check back soon for the full functionality of the South Pacific TurtleWatch tool.