April 12, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - The work of Wallace J. Nichols, senior sea turtle scientist for the Ocean Conservancy and 1989 graduate of DePauw University, is in the spotlight this weekend. A story in the latest edition of Ocean Conservancy magazine tells of how Nichols, who goes by "J.", in 1996 became the first researcher to attach a transmitter to a Baja sea turtle and track it as it traveled from Mexico to Japan. The journey of that turtle, named "Adelita" by Nichols, will be featured in Sunday's edition of PBS' Nature, in a show titled, "Voyage of the Lonely Turtle."
"Nichols tracked Adelita due west out of Baja," writes Ocean Conservancy's Andrew Myers. "It wasn't long before word of her journey got out. Schoolchildren and turtle-lovers the world over began to follow her movements as posted on Nichols' Web site.She made a steady pace of about 20 miles per day; a healthy walking gait for you or me. By January 1, she was just north of Hawaii, making good time. From there, the track continued west and ever so slightly north. Sure enough, she was headed straight for Japan. On August 13, 1997, three hundred and sixty-eight days after she first plunged into the Pacific with a transmitter on her back, Adelita's signal finally went dark -- her last location put her near Sendai in northern Japan."
Dr. Nichols' work changed the science of sea turtles, the magazine states. "Prior to 1996, metal flipper-tagging was the main way to track turtle migration. But with a metal tag all you know is point A and point B -- a turtle that was once there is now here, nothing more. Satellite tracking was then a nascent technology ... Nichols and his team have tracked over fifty turtles since Adelita. The gear is now better, smaller, cheaper. The data provide a greater understanding of loggerhead and green turtle migrations and lifecycles."
Myers also notes, "Nichols has long been an advocate of working with local communities to forward his conservation goals. He has been working with Baja fishermen to find economic alternatives to sea turtle fishing, an industry that blossomed in the middle of the last century, then crashed hard."
The work of J. Nichols -- who majored in biology at DePauw and later earned a master's degree from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment '92 and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in wildlife and fisheries science and evolutionary biology -- has created a new understanding of the creatures he has tracked and studied. "As it turns out, turtles aren't local," he says. "We know now that the health of turtles in, say, Baja is closely tied to the health of turtles in Japan, and vice versa. To understand sea turtles everywhere, we must share data and collaborate globally. And, it's not just a geographic concern. It's interdisciplinary, too. We need to work with experts on mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates and other species to understand how all these populations work together as an ecosystem."
Read the complete story at the magazine's Web site.
The PBS program will be telecast on most of the public television network's affiliates at 8 p.m. (EST). Access a video trailer for the show by clicking here.
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