The leatherback turtle is the largest species of sea turtle in the world.
Measuring in at anywhere between four and six feet, as well as weighing up to 1,100 pounds, the leatherback turtle certainly doesn’t have many natural predators.
Despite their immense size, have they been able to avoid endangered status?
Keep on reading to find out.
Are Leatherback Turtles Endangered?
Leatherback turtles are an endangered species.
All species of the leatherback turtle have been designated as such under the United States’ Endangered Species Act.
In fact, so dire is the status of the leatherback turtle worldwide that their overall population has witnessed a dramatic 40% decline over the last three generations.
Out of all global leatherback turtle populations, the Pacific one is most at-risk of extinction. Specifically telling among this decline is the fact that the largest Pacific population of leatherback turtles in Papua Burat, Indonesia, has decreased nearly 78% in recent years.
The Papua Burat population accounts for 75% of the global population of leatherbacks in that region.
Across the rest of the world, leatherback turtles also appear to be declining, an ominous sign for the species’ future survival.
Why are Leatherback Turtle Populations Declining?
One reason for the decline in leatherback turtle populations is where they nest. These turtles lay their eggs on beaches and these areas have been receding over the years as well, amounting to something of a habitat destruction.
Another reason is due to excess fishing. While these turtles are large in stature, they can still get caught in fishing nets. Many of the estimated 11,000 sea turtles caught annually are of the leatherback breed.
Leatherback eggs are also prized commodities in the food culture of many Asian countries, specifically in Malaysia where they’re utilized as a food source. A decline in hatchlings means less new leatherback turtles.
Finally, the obvious issue of ocean pollution. Because leatherback turtles are voracious eaters, they consume over twice their body weight, and that oftentimes includes the consumption of plastic debris that can look like jellyfish to them.
How Many Leatherback Turtles Are Left?
An estimated 34,000 to 94,000 female, adult leatherback turtles remain in the North Atlantic, with even less in the Pacific region.
The male leatherback population is currently unknown.
Considering the population used to be over 115,000, this represents a sharp decline for the leatherback species, once one of the most populous turtle breeds in the world.
Overall, the population estimates are too broad to know a precise figure, but what isn’t in doubt is that this is a species in need of effective conservation efforts.
Leatherback Turtles Endangered Status: Final Thoughts
The leatherback turtle is, unfortunately, a species in decline, which explains why they’ve been listed as endangered on an international level.
It’s somewhat ironic that they’re endangered given they don’t have many predators and their sheer size, but human exploitation has been known to affect nearly every animal population in the world, even the ones that would seem like they’re less in danger.
Luckily, conservation efforts have ramped up in an attempt to save the remaining leatherback populations in hopes of one day reviving population growth again.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.