Leatherbacks are the oldest, largest, and widest-ranging marine animals ever to swim through our global ocean. Nine feet long, six feet wide, and weighing almost a ton they dive as deep as half a mile. Leatherbacks swam with pleiosaurs--outlasting them and the dinosaurs by 65 million years. Now the question is, can they survive us?
Leatherback sea turtles are declining rapidly especially in the Pacific Ocean -- and are the world's most endangered sea turtle. "They survived over 100 million years, through climate change and asteroid impacts, but they could become extinct in the next 10-20 years unless sufficient international cooperation is mounted to reverse this dramatic decline," says Larry Crowder of Duke University. "There are probably fewer than 1500 females nesting throughout the Pacific Rim."
Global industrial fishing--in particular, pelagic longlines used to catch swordfish and tuna and gill nets, pose the principal threats to leatherbacks at sea, while the exploitation of eggs and destruction of nesting habitat threaten them during their short time on land. The task of reversing the decline of Pacific leatherbacks is daunting because they nest in four different countries, range through territorial seas of many nations, and ply international waters where protection is extremely limited.
Ironically, leatherbacks were long thought immune from extinction due to their widespread geographic distribution. They nest primarily in four Pacific rookeries where the number of individual nesting females has declined by more than 95% over the past 22 years to about 900 in Indonesia, 45 in Mexico, 55 in Costa Rica, and 2 in Malaysia. Populations in Mexico have declined 20 percent per year for nearly a decade. Scientists
Contact: Jessica Brown