For the first time thanks to groundbreaking research using satellite tracking, the epic ocean-spanning journeys of the gigantic leatherback turtle in the South Atlantic have been revealed.

A five-year study was led by experts at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter to find out more about these increasingly rare creatures and inform conservation efforts.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has shed new light on the little-known migration behaviour of these animals — following their movement from the world's largest breeding colony in Gabon, Central Africa, as they returned to feeding grounds across the South Atlantic.

Out of 25 females studied in the new research, three migratory routes were identified — including one 7,563km journey straight across the South Atlantic from Africa to South America , according to a University of Exeter press release.

Other routes still involved large distances, as they moved from Gabon to food-rich habitats in the southwest and southeast Atlantic and off the coast of Central Africa. They will stay in these areas for 2-5 years to build up the reserves to reproduce, when they will return to Gabon once again.

Dr. Matthew Witt, a researcher involved in the study said: “Despite extensive research carried out on leatherbacks, no one has really been sure about the journeys they take in the South Atlantic until now.

What we've shown is that there are three clear migration routes as they head back to feeding grounds after breeding in Gabon, although the numbers adopting each strategy varied each year. We don't know what influences that choice yet, but we do know these are truly remarkable journeys.”