The Beacon

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Victory! Pacific Leatherbacks Gain Protected Habitat

leatherback sea turtle

This leatherback will now have a safe haven in the Pacific. [Photo credit: NOAA]

As of today, the ocean’s largest sea turtle now has 41,914 square miles of Pacific Ocean it can call its own.

Oceana has been working for five years to protect habitat critical to the survival and recovery of the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, and it paid off. Thanks to a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service, these magnificent reptiles will now be safeguarded off the U.S. West Coast.

Leatherback sea turtles migrate from Papua, Indonesia to the U.S. West Coast every summer and fall to feed on jellyfish — a 12,000-mile round-trip journey that is the longest known migration of any living marine reptile.

Sadly, these navigators encounter a gauntlet of threats as they make their journey across the Pacific such as poaching; ingestion of plastic bags which they mistake for their favorite food, jellyfish; and entanglement and drowning in longline and gillnet fishing gear.

Due to these threats Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 95 percent since the 1980s and as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain. There have already been localized extinctions of leatherback sea turtles in India and the Sri Lanka and Malaysian populations have nearly disappeared. 

Leatherbacks from Papua, Indonesia and those that feed off the U.S. West Coast, are one of the turtle’s last strongholds in the Pacific Ocean. It is heartbreaking to think that a species that has been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years could indeed be wiped out by human actions.


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Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris, actress and sea turtle advocate.

Oceanography legend Jacques Cousteau once said “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” This spellbound wonder is certainly true for our fascination with the 7 species of sea turtles that have inhabited the world’s oceans for four million years and, sadly, which are all now threatened or endangered with extinction. These awe-inspiring ocean reptiles were the focus of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego.

Actress and sea turtle advocate Rachael Harris (“The Hangover”) presented at our Friday reception. She shared a special connection she made with a green sea turtle named Esmeralda while touring a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Mexico with Oceana last year.

Harris was captivated by how expressive Esmeralda was despite her flippers being mutilated after becoming entangled in fishing line and being attacked by a dog while on a beach to nest. Harris’ enthusiastic support for sea turtle protections is shared by fellow sea turtle advocate Angela Kinsey (“The Office”). The two will storm the nation’s capitol in early May to educate Congress about why we need to get turtles off the hook and the need for more sea turtle protections throughout our nation’s waters.  


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