If you’re an ocean lover, you’ve probably heard of the mighty leatherback sea turtle—the largest of the seven sea turtle species. Leatherback sea turtles can grow over six feet in length, and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. Besides their massive size, their unique appearance makes them easily distinguishable from the other sea turtle species. They lack a solid carapace, and instead have a dense layer of black, leather-like tissue, for which they’re aptly named.
- Researchers have discovered that the “pink spot” on leatherback sea turtles’ heads may actually play a useful physiological role. It may detect sunlight patterns, clueing leatherbacks into changes in seasonal patterns to inform their migrational and foraging habits. Smithsonian
As you likely know, natural predators aren’t the only threats to sea turtles and marine mammals in the open ocean—many manmade threats, like derelict fishing gear, pollution, and plastics, constantly endanger marine life. Fortunately, a recent encounter between a leatherback sea turtle and a derelict fishing net had a positive ending for the turtle.
If you’ve ever witnessed a sea turtle nest hatch, you’ve probably noticed that it seems like these reptiles emerge from their nests in silence. Scientists have long assumed that too, but a new study adds to a growing body of literature that finds that baby sea turtles can in fact make noise—and this communication is key to a successful hatching process.
In response to Governor Brown’s signing of Assembly Bill 1776, which designates the endangered leatherback sea turtle as California's official state reptile and designates October 15 as Leatherback Conservation Day, state and federal agencies have been encouraged to build cooperative relationships with the Western Pacific island nations, where Pacific leatherback sea turtles return from California waters to nest. This fall, from October 14-17th, political leaders from Indonesia and the United States will meet with notable marine and leatherback scientific experts to discuss the status of the species, the population, international conservation efforts, current conservation efforts in both countries, and socio-economic research of conservation.
We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana—with the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers—successfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
In a sweeping 5-0 vote, the Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council took action yesterday evening to ban single-use plastic bags in the quaint and beautiful coastal city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Oceana, as part of the Central Coast Sanctuary Alliance of local businesses and conservation organizations, has been advocating to the Council for months to take action to rid this source of pollution in the area and today invite you to celebrate this victory with us. This rides on the heels of similar bans put in place by neighboring Monterey and dozens of other California cities and counties.
Several other cities around Monterey Bay are currently discussing banning single-use plastic bags as well. Oceana will continue the effort to eliminate these plastic bags across the Bay, ultimately moving toward the goal of a statewide ban.
California distributes 19 billion plastic bags per year, many which end up littering our beautiful rivers and beaches and causing undue harm to wildlife.
Yesterday afternoon the California Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously to support legislation to designate the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the state’s official marine reptile.
The Commission often does not take a position on legislation, making yesterday’s decision an even stronger statement as to the importance of California waters to leatherback sea turtles.
Support from the Commission is expected to help push the legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) through the Senate and eventually to the Governor’s desk, where Jerry Brown has until September 30th to sign new bills into law.
The largest of six species of sea turtles in US waters, the leatherback makes an impressive migration from its nesting beaches in Papua, Indonesia to California waters to feed on jellyfish. Its 12,000 mile, round-trip journey is the longest of any marine reptile.
Pacific leatherbacks are listed on the Endangered Species List with as few as 2,100 adult female leatherback sea turtles remaining in the Pacific Ocean population. In January, 16,910 square miles off California’s coast were designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical habitat for the leatherback.
AB 1776 will be heard next in the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization. Stay tuned!
Some fun news today: The Pacific leatherback sea turtle may soon join the California poppy, coast redwood, and grizzly bear as one of California’s official symbols.
Assemblymember Paul Fong introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) that would designate the Pacific leatherback as the state’s marine reptile.
This bill is a fun way for Californians to learn about and appreciate the leatherback, while enshrining the ecological importance of this ancient species into state law. Among other things, the bill will establish October 15as the state’s annual Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day. It also encourages California public schools to include leatherback sea turtles into curriculum when possible and asks the state to support efforts to recover and preserve the leatherback.
The bill must receive enough votes in the Assembly and Senate before it can go to Governor Brown for him to consider signing it into law; the first vote will be in the Assembly this April.
If all goes well we will be celebrating the first Leatherback Day this October! Stay tuned.