Leatherback Sea Turtles are the biggest of all living turtles, reaching a shell length of 5.6 feet and a mass of 1,540 pounds. They're also prehistoric animals, believed to have been around for 100,000,000 years.
However, their numbers have dwindled in a most dramatic way (undoubtedly due to human activity) in the last twenty years. They could in fact be gone altogether in the next ten.
Right now, just under 100 hardy female survivors are on their way from Playa Grande (located 28 miles South West of LIR in Guanacaste province) to feeding grounds near the Galápagos Islands, west of Ecuador (about 950 miles away).
Eleven of them were tagged with sophisticated satellite tracking devices, and a unique competition has been set up by environmentalists with the endorsement of Costa Rica's Environment Ministry (MINAE). The turtle which travels the farthest in two weeks of swimming will be the winner.
Choose your turtle, and then track her course online along their underwater voyage! The competitors are: BILLIE, CHAMPIRO, DREXELINA, FREEDOM, GENEVIEVE, PURPLE LIGHTNING (my pick), SAPHIRA, STEPHANIE, SUNDAE, TURTLEOCITY (sponsored by Travelocity.com), and WINDY.
And, relatively speaking, this isn't such a slow sport. Leatherbacks propel themselves forward in the water using their front flippers in a motion that looks much like a bird flapping its wings. They have achieved recorded swim speeds of 5.8 miles per hour, but likely average closer to 1.6 miles per hour.
The race is currently underway, although it isn't exactly live because the turtles left Costa Rica at different times. Instead, organizers will provide a day-to-day showing of the first fourteen days of their journeys simultaneously as if they were racing. There is no prize for the winner, other than (hopefully) drawing a bit of worldwide attention to the plight of these magnificent creatures.
But don't just cheer your turtle on, go ahead and make your donation as well. All funds raised will go toward protecting their nesting sites at Playa Grande, which btw was the birthplace of all 11 competitors!