Crea­ture Fea­ture: Leatherbacks - A Close-to-Home Con­cern

An es­ti­mated one-third of adult tur­tles have in­gested plas­tic bags, mis­tak­ing them for food.

Howler Magazine - - Contents - by Vern Veer

The leatherback sea tur­tle is the largest of all sur­viv­ing tur­tle species. It's also the fourth heav­i­est rep­tile, with three species of croc­o­dile weigh­ing more. Leatherbacks are dif­fer­en­ti­ated from other sea tur­tles by their lack of a bony shell. In­stead, the top shell for which they are named is cov­ered by skin and oily flesh.

Leatherbacks nest along beaches ex­tend­ing as far north as Alaska and Nor­way, and as far south as Cape Agul­has in Africa and New Zealand's south­ern­most tip. Their pri­mary food source is the jel­ly­fish, which helps keep the jel­ly­fish pop­u­la­tion down. How­ever, coast­line pol­lu­tion from dis­carded plas­tic bags — Cal­i­for­ni­ans alone use up­ward of 19 bil­lion plas­tic bags ev­ery year — poses a man­made risk to leatherbacks. An es­ti­mated one-third of adult tur­tles have in­gested plas­tic bags, mis­tak­ing them for food.

The leatherback is des­ig­nated as VU (vul­ner­a­ble) on the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species. Var­i­ous benev­o­lent groups such as Earth Watch are work­ing with sci­en­tists to con­duct im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search in this re­gard.

The Leatherback Trust was founded specif­i­cally in the in­ter­est of its name­sake sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion. The foun­da­tion es­tab­lished a sanc­tu­ary in the Ta­marindoPlaya Grande area of Costa Rica, the Las Baulas Na­tional Ma­rine Park. This is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant leatherback nest­ing spots in the world. If you want to get in­volved in help­ing these tur­tles, visit www. leatherback.org for in­for­ma­tion.

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