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Leatherback Sea Turtles: An Endangered Species

Basic information

Status: Vulnerable

Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea

Weight: 600-1500 lbs

Length: 55-63 inches

Habitat: Oceans (Mesoamerican reef, Coastal East Africa, Gulf of California, Galapagos, Coral triangle)

Diet: Jellyfish and occasionally small aquatic creatures

Defining features: It is the most migratory turtle (crosses the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean)

Leatherback sea turtles are in danger! This species of turtle, known for being the most migratory turtle, is at risk. Leatherback sea turtles are a fundamental link in the aquatic food chain as they consume large amounts of jellyfish and help keep the jellyfish population in control. Due to the fact that they mostly eat jellyfish, they do not face much competition from other marine animals. This is because not many animals are able to eat jellyfish since they fear getting stung by jellyfish. Leatherback sea turtles can eat them since they will not get affected by a jellyfish sting.

The disappearance of leatherback sea turtles affects the aquatic ecosystem. Since they feed on jellyfish, if Leatherback sea turtles were to disappear from the aquatic ecosystem, jellyfish would have little to no predators. This would not be beneficial for the ecosystem as jellyfish feed on smaller aquatic animals such as fish (fish are also prey for other animals). If the population of jellyfish were to rise, then the population of fish would decrease. This would lead to more competition between animals for food.

The Leatherback sea turtle is a very important part of the aquatic ecosystem, but they are slowly disappearing from the marine environment. There are many reasons why the Leatherback sea turtles are disappearing from the aquatic environment. Some of which are listed below.

Habitat destruction

Leatherback sea turtles spend most of their lives in the water. Therefore they need an adequate habitat to live in. Factors such as pollution negatively affect their habitat. For example, water pollution caused by oil spills or garbage in the oceans causes the animals to eat/drink the pollutants and either become sick or die. Humans also play a significant role in destroying the habitats of Leatherback sea turtles. This is because humans tend to invade their habitat by going snorkelling/swimming. During that time, humans may intentionally or unintentionally destroy some of their habitats by breaking coral or participating in other destructive activities.

Poaching/animal exploitation

Poaching/animal exploitation is a big cause of the loss of Leatherback sea turtles. Many people steal the eggs of Leatherback turtles as they are accessible to them (they are buried on the beach). They steal them for food and money. An example of how Leatherback turtles are exploited is when they are brutally murdered for their flesh and their shells. Their flesh and shells are a method from which poachers make money.

Unintentional death

Leatherback sea turtles are killed unintentionally when humans are fishing and catch Leatherback sea turtles by mistake. Scientists are working on a method that prevents Leatherback sea turtles from being caught in fishing hooks. Another way how Leatherback sea turtles are unintentionally killed is by pollution. Plastic bags thrown in the ocean are known to be one of the biggest reasons for the death of these innocent creatures. Plastic bags that float on the surface of oceans resemble jellyfish. Since Leatherback sea turtles eat jellyfish, they often mistake plastic bags for food and eat them, which causes them to choke and can lead to their death.

What is being done right now to help

  • WWF is helping by creating more turtle-friendly fishing hooks so that turtles are not caught by mistake.

  • WWF is helping by creating protected marine environments where fishing is not allowed

  • WWF is using satellites to help track sea turtles

  • CWF monitors the population of the Leatherback sea turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters

  • CWF provides funding for research on Leatherback turtles.

Article author: Twisha Bhatt

Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Victoria Huang


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