Why Is the Leatherback Sea Turtle Endangered?

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The leatherback sea turtle can grow to 6.5 feet long and weigh up to 1,400 pounds, making it the largest of the sea turtles. It can survive in most of the world's oceans, but returns to tropical beaches to lay its eggs. A male turtle, once it hatches and reaches the sea, will likely never make land again in its lifetime. Female turtles will only return to land in order to lay their eggs.

Exploitation

  • A great number of sea turtles do not even make it to hatching; the eggs are sought after as food by humans and other animals. The eggs are also popular as an aphrodisiac in some Latin American countries.

    Upon hatching, the sea turtles have to run the expanse of the beach down to the sea. Hatchlings can be picked off by birds and lizards before they make it to safety.

    Adult turtles are also hunted for their meat--a delicacy in some parts of the world--and for their shells, which are made into souvenirs.

Habitat Depletion

  • The sea turtle is very particular about where it lays its eggs, returning to the same beach every year, often the beach where she was born. Humans, however, also use these beaches, which can disturb the turtles' efforts to lay their eggs. There is also great risk of eggs' being crushed by people sunbathing, walking or driving on the beach. As housing developments grow, the lights from homes near the beach can confuse the young turtles. After they hatch, the turtles can mistake the house lights for the gleam of the surf and head in the wrong direction.

Dangers From Fishing

  • Sea turtles have wide migratory paths that span the entire globe, bringing them into contact with many types of fishing in the world's oceans. Huge drift nets are a danger to all manner of sea life; dolphins, sharks and sea turtles all fall prey to the netting. The turtles can get tangled up and drown in the nets. Another danger is long-line fishing; lines up to 75 miles long are laid out by boats, each line containing thousands of hooks. The turtles can get hooked up on the lines, and being unable to surface for air, they drown.

Pollution

  • The leatherback is also at risk from trash floating in the world's oceans. Broken fishing netting can entangle the turtles, causing them to drown. Waste plastic bags or cellophane can be mistaken for the turtle's main food, which is jellyfish. If the turtles eat this trash it becomes lodged in their digestive systems, blocking them and causing starvation.

Conservation Attempts

  • Worldwide, 116 countries have banned the sale and trade of sea-turtle products. However, a black market for these products still exists. New regulations in some trawler fishing require nets to be fitted with TEDs, or turtle excluder devices. TEDs are openings designed to allow turtles to escape the netting.

    Moreover, attempts are being made to breed turtles in captivity. This is difficult because of their specific life cycle, but a project in the Cayman Islands has achieved a level of success in breeding.

References

  • Photo Credit sea turtle image by Cory Surdam from Fotolia.com beach image by Amjad Shihab from Fotolia.com The fishing gear at the back of a trawler image by Ian Danbury from Fotolia.com
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