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Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and U.S. Olympic Swimming Champs Dive In to Save Sea Turtles

Conservation International and National Geographic Combine Science, Celebrity Talent and Action-Packed Fun to Help Protect Endangered Leatherbacks in 'Great Turtle Race'

Burbank, CA- Conservation International (CI) today announced the launch of the "Great Turtle Race," a virtual "race" that follows 11 real leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) on an epic journey from feeding areas in chilly waters off Canada's Atlantic coast to breeding areas in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean. Race fans can see the action online at www.GreatTurtleRace.org, created in partnership with NationalGeographic.com, which puts the spotlight on one of today's most iconic animal species and what can be done to protect them.

As the turtles ride the waves to be the first to reach the finish line by April 29, they will be cheered on by celebrity sponsors including rock bands Pearl Jam and R.E.M., and 'coached' by Olympic swimmers Amanda Beard, Aaron Peirsol, Janet Evans, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Eric Shanteau, who will also provide race commentary. NBC announcer and Olympic athlete Rowdy Gaines, "The Voice of Swimming," will serve as official commentator and will be "calling" the race in daily online updates issued by CI. The eclectic group of Great Turtle Race supporters also includes surfers, schools, sea turtle biologists and nongovernmental groups.

"The magic of the Great Turtle Race is that it puts actual data from migrating sea turtles into a captivating, fun-filled format that draws attention to important biological research and inspires people to act on behalf of ocean conservation," said CI Vice President Roderic Mast.

"The fate of sea turtles, the global marine environment and humanity itself are inextricably tied to the choices we make today," said Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, an advocate for saving turtles and their marine habitats. "Pearl Jam is happy to be a part of the Great Turtle Race, and we are encouraging all our fans and friends to join the fun, cheer on our turtle, Backspacer, and help save the seas."

National Geographic will host the race at www.GreatTurtleRace.org in collaboration with CI. The Great Turtle Race site will feature a "race" map that follows the real journey of each turtle during the two-week race. Daily updates will feature guest bloggers, such as swim and surf champions, marine scientists and conservationists. Visitors can also play the Great Turtle Race online game and compete to dominate each week's leaderboard. The Great Turtle Race coincides with the release of National Geographic magazine's May issue, which contains a feature article on leatherback turtles by National Geographic Executive Editor Tim Appenzeller, with photos by award-winning photographer Brian Skerry.

This year's Great Turtle Race event builds on the success of the first Great Turtle Race in 2007 that featured 11 female leatherbacks making their way from Costa Rica to the Galápagos Islands. This year, both male and female turtles are on the official race roster competing in what Rowdy Gaines reports "will be a grueling marathon of more than 6,000 km. But the event is more than just a race to the finish line; the turtles will also face off in a series of mini-challenges such as the Deepest Dive competition. Even more to the point, this race extends far beyond the April 29 finish -- the true race is one for survival, one that we all impact and one that has no certain end."

Leatherbacks are spectacular animals that have been swimming Earth's oceans since dinosaurs roamed the land. They can weigh more than half a ton, can dive more than a half a mile deep, and have the widest geographic range of any reptile. Currently, leatherbacks, like all sea turtles, are threatened by human actions such as incidental capture in fisheries (termed "bycatch"), consumption of their eggs, coastal development and ingestion of plastic debris. Leatherback populations have declined dramatically in some parts of the world, such as the eastern Pacific, where their numbers have decreased more than 90 percent over the past two decades.

The data providing the realistic basis to the racing turtles come from satellite transmitters that were put on each turtle by experts from the Canadian Sea Turtle Network based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These devices are providing data to help conservationists better understand how turtles use different marine environments across their basin-wide range. The Great Turtle Race will raise funds to protect important nesting and feeding habitats and will raise awareness about what we can all do — no matter where we live — to help protect sea turtles and their habitats.

"Although it remains to be seen whether the old adage about turtles, that 'slow and steady wins the race,' will hold in this case, we are optimistic that the event will convey that leatherbacks are going faster than we think," said Mast. "There's no time to waste in making responsible decisions that will ensure healthy oceans full of leatherbacks for generations to come."

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