THREATS TO LEATHERBACKS

Leatherback sea turtles in the East Pacific are officially Critically Endangered on the Redlist of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The major threats to this species’ survival are:

1.    Fisheries bycatch: incidental capture of marine turtles in fishing gear targeting other species;

2.    Take: direct utilization of turtles or eggs for human use (i.e. consumption, commercial products);

3.    Coastal Development: human-induced alteration of coastal environments due to construction, dredging, beach modification, etc.;

4.    Pollution and Pathogens: marine pollution and debris that affect marine turtles (i.e. through ingestion or entanglement, disorientation caused by artificial lights), as well as impacts of pervasive pathogens (e.g. fibropapilloma virus) on turtle health;

5.    Climate change: current and future impacts from climate change on marine turtles and their habitats (e.g. increasing sand temperatures on nesting beaches affecting hatchling sex ratios, sea level rise, storm frequency and intensity affecting nesting habitats, etc.).

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist Listings for the 7 Subpopulations of Leatherback Turtles

Northwest Atlantic

Southwest Atlantic

Southeast Atlantic

Northeast Indian  

Southwest Indian

West Pacific

East Pacific

The greatest threat to leatherback sea turtles in the East Pacific, where a majority of Leatherback Project efforts are based at this time, was historically poaching, and now poaching is still a threat, but artisanal and commercial longline and gillnet fisheries are the largest threat to leatherbacks in this ocean basin. It has been estimated that in the early 2000s, tens of thousands of  leatherbacks were caught in fishing gear each year. Leatherback sea turtles can hold their breath for around 85 minutes, but the set times of nets in some of these fisheries can be as long as 14 hours.

leatherback sea turtle that survived a boat strike off the coast of Baja California, Mexico and was nesting in November, 2016. Photo Credit: Francesca Dvorak

A poached leatherback sea turtle carapace on Beach D on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea in January, 2017. You can see three eggs still inside her that she never was able to lay. Photo Credit: Callie Veelenturf

leatherback sea turtle that survived a boat strike off the coast of Baja California, Mexico and was nesting in November, 2016. Photo Credit: Francesca Dvorak