Eleven days and more than 500 miles later, Billy the sea turtle was the first to cross the proverbial finish line around the Galapagos Islands Thursday.
The Great Turtle Race, an event billed by organizers as a global bid to “raise awareness and funds for the critically endangered leatherback turtle,” began April 16, with turtles speeding off at a rate of 1 to 4 miles per hour.
The turtles didn’t all start at once – each of 11 was outfitted with satellite tags as they left the beach during their nesting season in January and February, but the mock race has followed their movements in real time since then (TT, April 13).
More than 40,000 fans have chosen a turtle to cheer on at the race’s official Web site, www.greatturtlerace.com, according to Lisa Bailey, of Conservation International, and many thousands more have logged on to follow their progress.
She said two of the turtles, named Sundae and Drexelina, had yet to leave the Playa Grande area – while the bulk of competitors had already swum more than 400 miles in the direction of the Galapagos, where they will spend the rest of the year feeding on jellyfish.
She said no one knows why two have stayed behind – and added that such anomalies are the very reason they chose to track the turtles in the first place.
In Costa Rica, a small but vocal group, spearheaded by National University (UNA) biologist Freddy Pacheco, continued to protest the race in an e-mail campaign, claiming it is commercializing the severely threatened species for monetary gain.
“It’s like a poker game, or a horse race,” he said. “If we weren’t dealing with a species so seriously threatened, it wouldn’t be so important.”
The 500-mile race, which ends near the Galapagos Islands, finishes Sunday.