The news was released at the 24th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology, a weeklong conference in San Jose, Costa Rica attended by more than 1,000 experts from 70 countries.
Named for its smooth, leathery skin, the leatherback has graced ocean waters from the tropics to the Arctic since the time of the dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago. But scientists have documented a precipitous decline of the Pacific leatherback in the past two decades. Since 1982, their numbers have dropped from approximately 115,000 reproductive females to fewer than 3,000 remaining today, a decline of 97 percent.
"On land, the canary in the coal mine warns humans of impending environmental danger," said Roderic Mast, Conservation International Vice President and President of the International Sea Turtle Society. "Sea turtles act as our warning mechanism for the health of the ocean, and what they're telling us is quite alarming. Their plummeting numbers are, unfortunately, symptomatic of the ocean as a whole."
Although the leatherback may be the world's best-known sea turtle, five of the other six sea turtle species are also at risk of extinction. The Kemp's ridley and hawksbill turtles are classified by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, as is the leatherback. The green, olive ridley and loggerhead turtles are all considered Endangered. The flatback turtle, found solely on the northern coast of Australia, is regarded as Data Deficient.
Sea turtles face threats ranging from destructive fishing practices such as long-lining and the poaching of turtle eggs, which some cultures regard as a delicacy. Long-lining is a practice in which ships extend up to 90 miles of fishing line with as many as 8,000 hooks, many
Contact: Brad Phillips