Science

Magazine names UBC turtle researcher one of 'Brilliant 10'

A University of British Columbia doctoral candidate has been chosen as one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant 10" list.

A University of British Columbia doctoral candidate has been chosen as one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant 10" list, which honours young scientists.

T. Todd Jones made the list, which the magazine compiled after interviewing university department heads and professional associations across the U.S. for recommendations.

The native of Orlando, Fla., pioneered a soft rubber harness and a diet that enabled him to raise leatherback turtles in captivity for more than two years to study them.

The harness is something like a child's Jolly Jumper, while the diet Jones devised is a blend of human-grade squid and vitamins with gelatin.

The food is formed into jelly strips consistent with jellyfish that turtles like to eat.

Jones's study is the only one to raise more than one leatherback in captivity from hatchling to juvenile.

His research team has raised two healthy leatherbacks from hatchlings since July 2005.

Each of the two turtles now weighs about 30 kilograms, and they continue to provide data that could be crucial to the future of the critically endangered species.

About 50,000 leatherbacks remain in the wild, but Pacific leatherbacks could become extinct in our lifetime.

In the wild, only one in 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood due to a combination of natural causes and human activities.

The study's findings on leatherback behaviour, diet and physiology will help scientists and conservationists determine leatherback foraging areas and understand the timing of their migrations.

"The lessons learned from captive rearing will also help create protocols for rehabilitating adult leatherbacks that are stranded or caught in commercial fishing gear," Jones said in a university news release.

Leatherbacks have been around for more than 100 million years and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs.

An adult leatherback turtle can reach between 250 and 550 kilograms, with the largest male recorded at 918 kilograms — about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

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