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BBC News Features Biology Professor's Research on Endangered Sea Turtles (January 2014)

photo of leatherback sea turtle on a beach

Leading a multi-institutional team of researchers, Dr. John Roe just published results from a long-term study on the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The leatherback is the world's largest sea turtle and one of the most endangered. The species occurs in two distinct populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but populations in the Pacific appear to be more at risk, largely from fisheries and overharvesting. Leatherbacks from the Atlantic population occasionally nest on North Carolina’s beaches.

photograph of leatherback sea turtle wearing a satellite transmitter

Reporting in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Dr. Roe and his collaborators used a satellite system to track leatherback sea turtles and to estimate threats to their survival in the Pacific Ocean. They focused on turtle losses posed by bycatch (incidental catches) from longline fisheries. They tracked 135 leatherbacks from 1992-2008 (combining data from several projects) for an average tracking duration of 209 days. The greatest threats in the western Pacific occurred within exclusive economic zones (under national jurisdiction) near primary nesting beaches of Indo-Pacific islands. In the eastern Pacific, however, the greatest threat was in waters outside national jurisdiction --- the South Pacific Gyre. According to the researchers, conservation management of leatherback sea turtles should focus on these high risk areas (“hotspots”) to avoid fisheries bycatch. BBC news first reported the research on its website on 7 January 2014, and the report was quickly picked up by other news organizations (see below).

Dr. John Roe (pictured below) joined the UNCP Department of Biology in 2010, after completing a two year post-doc at Indiana-Purdue University. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Canberra, Australia, in 2008, a M.S. at Purdue University in 2002, and a B.S. at Davidson College in 1998.  His main interest is in herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) and aquatic habitats. He is currently teaching courses in zoology, field zoology, and environmental science. Dr. Roe has mentored several undergraduate students in research, their work focused largely on box turtles (Terrapene carolina) in North Carolina. 

photo of John Roe

Access the journal article by clicking here.
Go to the BBC News story here.
Go to the ScienceDaily News story here.
Go to the Nature World News story here.

Photographs are courtesy of George Shillinger and Scott Hansen.

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Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

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