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Species at Risk: Leatherback sea turtle

Leatherback sea turtle

In 1982, scientists estimated that there were 115,000 adult female leatherback sea turtles worldwide. Recent estimates have placed the number between 20,000 and 30,000.

The Pacific leatherback sea turtle is in such severe decline that scientists believe they will become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within the next 30 years unless significant actions are taken to protect them very quickly.

Incidental catch in fishing gear, poaching of their eggs and ingestion of plastics have all contributed to the listing of the leatherback sea turtle as endangered. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has concluded that most leatherback nesting populations in the Pacific have declined more than 80 percent.

In some other areas, leatherback sea turtle populations are still seriously reduced but doing better. For example, nesting on U.S. beaches along the Atlantic coast has been increasing in recent years.

In 2007, Oceana petitioned the federal government to designate critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. In response, in January 2012, The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of 41,914 square miles of protected critical ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle.

The final rule establishes critical habitat in areas where leatherbacks feed on jellyfish after swimming 6,000 miles across the ocean from nests in Indonesia. This is the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks designated in continental U.S. waters and is the largest area set aside to protect sea turtle habitat in the United States or its territories.

Check out the map below to see the areas designated as Critical Habitat (click to enlarge):

Leatherback Sea Turtle Critical Habitat: with sightings, telemetry, and bycatch locations