What are leatherback turtles doing for Christmas this year? Scientists are set to find out, after equipping two adult females with satellite tracking devices to monitor their movements. Little is known about this endangered species and how they spend their time.

The University of Exeter research team will be able to observe where and how deep the turtles dive as they journey throughout the South Atlantic since leaving their nesting spot in Gabon, Western Central Africa on Dec. 7, 2009.

"We are building a high precision model of how these amazing creatures use the seas near Gabon to breed,” Dr. Matthew Witt told Science Daily.

“Our aim is that this will help inform management of fisheries and mineral exploration as well as feeding into ambitious plans to widen the network of marine protected areas in Gabon. It is only by having detailed information on where these creatures go that we can try to protect them.”

Leatherback turtle populations crashed by more than 90 percent in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly due to the impacts of fishing, oil exploitation and pollution. 

The soft-shelled reptiles are the deepest-diving of all sea turtles and have been known to travel thousands of miles in search of jellyfish, their natural prey.

So far the turtles, Darwinia and Noelle, have logged over 800 miles between them. Their movements can be seen online at seaturtle.org.

"It is exciting to see where these creatures travel and to delve into their lives in the vast South Atlantic Ocean,” says Dr. Witt.

“Over the Christmas period we will follow their movements with great interest with the hope that the information we gather can feed into truly useful approaches to help promote the protection of the species."

Christmas journey of turtles tracked by scientists
Darwina and Noelle, two leatherback turtles fitted with satellite devices, can be tracked online over the Christmas holiday.