Last of the leatherbacks? Majestic turtles closer to extinction

Leatherbacks_Beach_Tapilatu

Photo: UAB News

Leatherback turtles – one of those amazing large creatures that gives us a window into the world of prehistoric giants – have been reported to be in serious decline at its last stronghold in the Pacific. The University of Alabama (Birmingham) has helped provide recent data from Indonesian beach site visits:

An international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has documented a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at the turtle’s last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean.

The study, published online today in the Ecological Society of America’s scientific online journal Ecosphere, reveals leatherback nests at Jamursba Medi Beach in Papua Barat, Indonesia – which accounts for 75 percent of the total leatherback nesting in the western Pacific – have fallen from a peak of 14,455 in 1984 to a low of 1,532 in 2011. Less than 500 leatherbacks now nest at this site annually.

Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., a professor of reproductive biology at UAB and member of a research team that includes scientists from State University of Papua (UNIPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, says the largest marine turtle in the world could soon vanish.

“If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction,” said Wibbels, who has studied marine turtles since 1980. “That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback.

Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.

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Posted on March 1, 2013, in activism, conservation, exploration, photography, science, sea life, travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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