Learn About the Leatherback Sea Turtle
Sea turtles are fascinating animals that spend most of their lives in the ocean, but risk extreme amounts of danger to come onto the land to lay their eggs. Like any other turtles or tortoises, sea turtles are protected by the shell that covers the majority of their bodies and serves as a shelter if they detect a threat. Even though turtles have this natural defense system, it doesn’t provide complete protection, which is why most species of sea turtles are endangered or close to being endangered. There are a variety of different sea turtles, but one of the best-known types is the leatherback sea turtle, thanks to their distinctive appearance.
Leatherback turtles are the largest species of sea turtle and weigh anywhere between 500-1500 pounds and have even been reported to weigh up to 2000 pounds. Until you see one of these turtles up close, it’s hard to fathom just how large they are. From their head to the end of their tails, they average around five feet, though some can be up to seven feet in length. The easiest way to identify them is by their leather-like shells instead of the hard, bone-like shell other turtles have.
Out of all of the sea turtles, leatherback turtles travel more for migration purposes than any other type of turtle. They spend time in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and travel thousands of miles to find food, primarily jellyfish, and reproduce. Leatherback turtles can dive up to about 4,000 feet, deeper than nearly any other marine animal.
Overall, the leatherback turtle is considered vulnerable, but depending what sub-species is being considered, some are listed as critically endangered. There are a variety of issues that threaten sea turtles. These issues include illegal egg harvesting, fisheries bycatch, threats on beaches, and habitat destruction. Some cultures and countries partake in the collection of sea turtle eggs for various trades, often as a form of food. While many countries have outlawed this trade, it still occurs and in some places is even legal. This practice has led to many eggs being taken from sea turtles’ nests and has decimated the populations. Another major threat to sea turtles is getting caught in fisheries’ nets as they gather other marine animals.
Male leatherbacks never leave the ocean once they reach it after hatching. However, female leatherbacks must regularly venture onto land in order to lay their eggs. Mating occurs in the ocean, but then female leatherbacks head to beaches to create nests and lay eggs. Females only lay eggs every 2-3 years, which lowers their chances for offspring that survive.
The time that baby leatherback eggs are in their nests to when they finally reach the water after hatching is one of the most dangerous of their lives. There are many natural predators that can find the nests and eat the eggs or the nests can be disturbed by human activity on beaches. As beaches become polluted and developed, it also lowers the available area for turtles to make their nests.
How you can help
The best step you can take to help out leatherback sea turtles is to raise awareness and also donate to causes that help them. In many areas, such as Florida, there are programs that train volunteers in how to locate and mark turtle nests in order to make sure they receive adequate protection and then help the baby sea turtles reach the ocean after they hatch.