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Follow that Turtle: 3 Tools to Track Marine Life - Explore

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Follow that Turtle: 3 Tools to Track Marine Life

Protected oceans

There is no longer a need to sit in a crowded whale-watching boat for hours on end wondering where all the ocean's giants are — the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) website's near real-time animal tracker lets you follow tagged salmon sharks, elephant seals, blue sharks, sea turtles, and great whites as they travel the Pacific Ocean. 

The tracker also shows how fast the animal is moving and where the animal has been in the past. 

MPAtlas, an online interactive map that highlights the world's protected marine areas, takes the online animal watch a step further. While animals swim the seas on TOPP, consult MPAtlas to see if they are staying within the confines of protected ocean space or traveling into unexpected waters. Watch out, it's a nail-biting experience (not really). 

The map is a joint project of the Marine Conservation Institute and the Waitt Foundation and shows the different types and levels of protection around the world. It also marks candidate areas for future protection. What is baffling, though, is that only small portions of the interactive map are highlighted as "designated marine protection areas." MPAtlas statistics show that only 1.2 percent of the Earth's oceans are actually protected. As for the other 98.8 percent? Not so lucky — for now. 

It seems possible that many marine animals know where these protected havens are and spend a large portion of time circling those aquatic preserved areas, much like the tagged elephant seal tracked in TOPP. This northern elephant seal played it safe and returned many times to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary during the past year of tracking. The same cannot be said for Freedom, a leatherback turtle tracked by TOPP, who spent a year swimming just outside the border of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Some just love to live life on the edge. 

As if MPAtlas doesn't already cover the world, Protected Planet is another website that details particular global preservation sites both on land and sea, presenting photos and descriptions about the areas. 

"The stories of vibrant ocean places are cataloged on MPAtlas," the Sylvia Earle Alliance blog said about the MPAtlas map compilation. "By safeguarding vital marine places, we refuel the engine of our blue planet, enriching our culture, society and economy." 

 --Allison Montroy is an editorial intern for Sierra and a journalism student at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. 

--Image by iStockphoto/IBorisoff

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