The Beacon

Blog Tags: Leatherback

Gearing Up for the First Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day!

Leatherback hatchlings inch their way towards the wide and open ocean

We’re already gearing up for this year’s first official Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day on October 15! When Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1776 into law last year, he declared an official celebratory day for the Pacific leatherback sea turtle and made it the state’s marine reptile, in order to increase awareness and conservation of this endangered species. With the support of the state of California, we are working with state and federal agencies and other conservation organizations here and abroad to facilitate an official California-Indonesia leatherback partnership to better protect this amazing sea turtle at every stage of its lifecycle, from hatchling to adult.


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Sea Turtle Environmentalist Suspected Murdered by Poachers

Jairo Mora Sandoval, student and environmentalist who worked to protect leatherback sea turtles and their nests, was found dead in Costa Rica on May 31, suspected killed by sea turtle egg poachers and smugglers. 

An environmentalist fighting for endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica has been found dead, suspected killed by sea turtle poachers. Jairo Mora Sandoval, a noted Costa Rican environmentalist, was a biology student who worked for the state-sponsored Paradero Eco-Tour, an animal rescue group and turtle sanctuary. Mora Sandoval also worked as a volunteer with the nonprofit environmental group Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), which works to protect sea turtles and their eggs across Central America. Mora Sandoval worked particularly to protect leatherback turtle nests from poachers and smugglers in Moin beach in Limon province. He was reported found badly beaten and shot in the head, face down with his hands tied on Moin beach, which lies 105 miles east of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. Sandoval was 26.


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Endangered Sea Turtles Face Increased Threats

Endangered loggerheads will be subject to 100% higher catch ©Oceana

After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here’s some not so good news. 

Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.

Currently, regulations allow a capture, or “take,” of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year. 

The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from “threatened” to “endangered” little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.

Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:

This decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.”

We agree, it’s outrageous – and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We’ll keep you posted!


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Leatherback Sea Turtle Rescue

Over the past week, the New England Aquarium pulled off the dramatic rescue, rehabilitation and release of a 655-pound, 7-foot leatherback sea turtle which had stranded on Cape Cod (as seen in the video above). The prehistoric-looking reptile was found suffering from dehydration and shock with a significant portion of its left-front flipper missing, an injury the Aquarium said was consistent with entanglement in fishing gear, a sadly common occurrence with these severely threatened animals.

Leatherbacks are long-distance swimmers, using their giant paddle-like flippers to propel them over vast distances.  This turtle from the Western Atlantic population travels all the way from the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean to the jellyfish-rich waters of New England each year, and may even swim as far north as Newfoundland. After a weekend being nursed back to health by aquarium staff, this beleaguered leatherback, which veterinarians estimated to be around 25 to 30 years old, was released off of Cape Cod on Sunday.

If the turtle survives, it will be a cheerful chapter in an increasingly desperate story about a species that has survived for a hundred million years but faces extinction in the coming decades.  As many as 2,300 leatherbacks may have died at the hands of commercial fishing activities each year throughout the 1990s.  Aside from entanglement in fishing gear, many turtles also face threats from poaching and countless die from ingesting plastic. Leatherbacks, whose throats are lined with backward-pointing spines to prevent swallowed jellyfish from escaping, are especially vulnerable to choking on plastic bags, which they mistake for their favorite prey.

But there is hope for the leatherback sea turtle. In 2007, Oceana petitioned the federal government to designate critical habitat for off the U.S. West Coast, where Pacific populations have plummeted by as much as 80% in recent decades. In response, earlier this year, The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of almost 42,000 square miles of protected ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered turtle.  Turtles arrive in these areas each year after swimming as far as 6,000 miles across the open ocean from nests in Indonesia. This is the first permanent safe haven designated for leatherbacks in U.S. waters.  The National Marine Fisheries Service has yet to designate similar critical habitat for loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans even though they are required by law to do so.

Help Oceana continue to fight for this incredible animal, the largest turtle and one of the largest living reptiles on Earth.


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New Report: The Oil Spill's Impact on Sea Turtles

© AP/Dave Martin

Today we released a new report that describes the potential effects of the oil spill on endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea turtles can become coated in oil or inhale volatile chemicals when they surface to breathe, swallow oil or contaminated prey, and swim through oil or come in contact with it on nesting beaches.

As of yesterday, 32 oiled sea turtles have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 320 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the spill began April 20.

While some dead and injured sea turtles are found by search crews or wash up on the beach, some never will. Ocean currents often carry them out to sea where they can sink or be eaten by predators.

Our report shows that the ongoing oil spill can have the following impacts on sea turtles:


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