Marine Creature: Leatherback Turtle
Kindly compiled by Nicki Wheeler of Latin American Sea Turtles – LAST
General Description – Leatherback Turtle – Dermochelys coriacea
Food: Soft bodied creatures especially jellyfish.
Size: Largest sea turtle – the average carapace length is 1.75m but larger individuals have been recorded.
Distribution: Global – leatherbacks are present in all oceans with nesting in tropical waters.
Lifespan: Estimated at 100 years
Leatherbacks always lay yolk-less eggs that do not produce embryos. Reasons are unknown. Their bodies are not covered by scales and scutes, they just have a leather-like covering. Although a reptile the feeding grounds of some rookeries are in cold waters. All specimens have a pink spot over their heads. And there are many theories about their role. Leatherbacks are one of the deepest diving animals in the marine world
Leatherbacks have separate genders, they mate during the migrations from feeding grounds to nesting areas, and they practice multi-paternity. Every 10 days each female comes back to lay eggs to the same beach returning to her natal home After 55-60 days the hatchlings emerge and crawl to the waves, swimming to reach the main current. They will not come back until they reach 30 or more years old. Males do not come to beach ever.
Feeding & Hunting
Leatherbacks feed whilst swimming in the current with the plankton, eating soft body preys. They are pelagic animals.
For baby turtles: the poachers, dogs, crabs, foxes, coyotes. In the water: birds, fish, and sharks. For juveniles: Orca and sharks.
Anthropogenic threats are pollution by plastic, sewage, coastal development, bycatch, oil spills and global warming. Plastic bags are a huge problem and are often found in the stomachs of turtles especially leatherbacks who can’t tell the difference between a jellyfish and a plastic bag.
Conservation Status & International Protection
Leatherbacks are in global endangered status by IUCN, but in areas such as the Eastern Pacific they are in critically endangered status. They are protected by CITES, SPAW, IAC, CMS and other regional and international agreements
How can people help?
Some simple steps that you can take to help protect leatherback turtles: This could be either providing ID photos, report a sighting to a local NGO, be aware of the ways of being responsible in the water with these creatures. By using responsible fishing methods, and taking extra precaution on nesting beaches not to disturb females or nests.
Say no to plastic bags. If you are not using plastic bags then you can’t be responsible for your bag ending up in the ocean. Marine debris is a huge threat to many marine species and this simple step can help reduce the significant number of plastic bags finding their way into our oceans.
Best places in the world to see these creatures:
Costa Rica Caribbean Coast, Trinidad and Tobago north coast, Caribbean coast of Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam
Scientist Profile: Nicki Wheeler
1986 as part of ANAI organization. We became part of WIDECAST in 2017, then changed our name in 2013 to LAST
We have received funding from the Whitley Fund for Nature, PacSafe, and the Disney Foundation
Web link: www.latinamericanseaturtles.com
Description/Background of work
LAST is a Costa Rican group with a working team of 8 members and a directive board of 5, working together to make a change in sea turtle conservation. Our field teams are integrated by local assistants with unparalleled experience in sea turtle research and conservation, people with vast experience working with volunteers and environmental enthusiasts developing creative strategies to avoid the extinction of these species.
Importance of work
We have developed different projects. The first, a group of conservation and research programs both on the Caribbean and Southern Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. The Caribbean program is located in Pacuare beach, where we focus on the nesting of leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles, while the South Pacific project is located in Osa Peninsular, where we work in the recovery of mangrove forests and sea grass beds as well as the studies of the rare Eastern Pacific hawksbill turtles.
We also create alternative livelihoods by training local partners on how to receive volunteers and tourism in community. This increases strongly their local opportunities to have a better income and reduces the pressure over the turtles, their eggs and their critical habitats.
We have initiated projects to monitor reefs, train park rangers in monitoring turtle nesting and educate hundreds of students on the importance of coastal conservation. Finally we also advise the government on marine environments, participate in several local, national and international networks and publish articles to improve the knowledge about the ocean and its life.