“In Wildness is the Preservation of the world.” --Henry David Thoreau
The Leatherback sea Turtle is the largest reptile and sea turtle on earth. Leatherbacks get their name from their shells, which are like thick leathery skin with a texture of hard rubber. It can grow up to 6.5 feet long and weigh up to 1,400 pounds. They have very strong and powerful front flippers with short necks and head. Leatherbacks can have a brown to black shell. An interesting observation reveals yellow to white spots all over their body. Jellyfish are the primary food of Leatherback sea Turtles but they also eat fish, mollusks, squid, sea urchins, other marine creatures, crustaceans, tunicates, blue-green algae and seaweed. The Leatherback sea turtles are mostly tertiary consumers in the marine life food chain. Only sharks are large enough to prey upon adult sea turtles. Their flippers are especially vulnerable. Man is also a predator of the leatherback turtle. Although females lay 100 to 150 eggs at a time the eggs are favorite foods to seabirds, sharks, large fish and raccoons. Life is perilous for a hatchling.
Leatherback sea turtles live mainly in warm waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They've also been spotted in icy seas off the northern shores of Canada as well as the southern coast of South Africa. They swim with grace and speed swimming up to 22 miles per hour. Leatherbacks are unique among reptiles as they can survive in cold waters. Leatherback sea Turtles need warm tropical beaches to incubate its eggs. After mating with a male just off shore, the female waits for nightfall to clamber up the beach, dig a shallow pit in the sand, and deposit her eggs. If it can survive to adulthood, spending as long as 10 to 15 years at sea, a turtle will return to breed at the same beach where it hatched. Leatherbacks live in deep waters in the daytime and shallow waters in the nighttime.
Leatherback turtle populations are severely impacted by humans in many countries due to overexploitation. Sea turtle eggs are a prized food for humans and animals alike. Turtle eggs are used in traditional Asian medicines. Japan historically has been the largest importer of sea turtle products in the world. Between 1970 and 1989, Japan imported 1.5 million pounds (680 metric tons) of shell, which represents about 700,000 dead turtles.
Human development and construction also threaten many important nesting beaches. All over the world, hotels, restaurants, and homes have encroached on turtle nesting beaches. Because of their long flippers, leatherbacks are at high risk for entanglement and drowning in certain kinds of fishing gear and marine debris. Sea turtles make lengthy migrations from hatching beaches to feeding grounds and back. Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, for example, hatch on Japanese beaches and then swim 7,500 miles (12,000 km) to favor feeding grounds off Baja California. Because they sometimes spend a lot of time at the surface, leatherbacks are also frequently struck and injured or killed by boats and propellers. Until recently an estimated 55,000 sea turtles died from shrimp trawling in United States waters each year. Littering on the beaches make leatherback sea turtles susceptible to plastic garbage floating in the oceans. Nearly 50 percent of leatherbacks recently studied had plastic bags or cellophane lodged in their stomachs or intestines. Dead sea turtles have been reported containing everything from pieces of plastic milk jugs to bits of balloons, items likely ingested when mistaken for jellyfish.
There have been many conservation acts put into action to help save the Leatherback sea Turtles. The United States and 115 other countries have banned the import or export of sea turtle products. Hatcheries and head starting are two programs aimed at increasing survival of sea turtles in the wild. It is possible for anyone to help support sea turtle conservation. We can help participate in beach cleanups or attend a public sea turtle walk. We can do a presentation on turtles for a class to raise awareness. We can help just by remembering not to release balloons or throw trash into the ocean.