Deep-diving sea turtles tracked across the world's oceans by a satellite-monitoring computer at Buffalo State College hold to strict highways in the sea, research has shown.
That's both good news and bad, said Buffalo State scientist Edward A. Standora, who lectured this month at the 18th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Mexico.
The good news is, "the whole ocean doesn't have to be protected to save the turtles," he said.
The bad news is that "in some areas, these 'highways in the ocean' overlap with areas of heavy use by man."
For years, Standora has studied the habits of sea turtles -- especially leatherbacks, the largest of all sea turtles, and the endangered Kemp's ridley turtle, the smallest.
In work funded by the National Geographic Society, Earthwatch and the Research Foundation of Buffalo State, he and his students have attached transmitters to free-swimming turtles. Signals from the transmitters are picked up by satellites, which can be contacted by the college computer.
The work, Standora said, revealed that leatherbacks spend only about a fifth of their time at the sea surface. This is an important fact for scientists trying to estimate how many turtles are missed by aerial counts, a key tool in estimating world turtle populations and trends.
The deepest leatherback turtle dive recorded by the researchers was 2,440 feet, almost half a mile, Standora said.
The huge sea turtles, he added, risk being done in by the common plastic sandwich bag. Bags discarded by boaters look like jellyfish, the turtles' entire diet, and a mistakenly ingested piece of plastic can block the animal's digestive tract and cause its death.