New study shows continued decline in the last remaining stronghold for leatherback sea turtles

February 26, 2013

Critically endangered leatherback sea turtle populations in the western Pacific Ocean may be losing their last foothold of survival on the beaches of Indonesia, according to a paper published today in the scientific journal Ecosphere by an international group of scientists.

Researchers from the State University of Papua Indonesia, NOAA Fisheries Service, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Indonesia released a report today documenting the continued decline of leatherback sea turtle nesting in the western Pacific Ocean.

"At least 75 percent of all Leatherback turtles in the western Pacific Ocean hatch from eggs laid on a few beaches in an area known as Bird's Head Peninsula in Papua Barat-Indonesia," said Peter Dutton of NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and one of the researchers who co-authored the paper. "Our analysis indicates the number of leatherback turtle nests on this beach has declined 78 percent over the last 27 years."

Leatherbacks are the largest of all and the largest living reptile in the world weighing up to 2000 pounds and over six feet in length. Female leatherbacks lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs and typically nest several times during a nesting season. After about two months, the hatchlings emerge from the nest and enter the ocean where they mature and may migrate as far away as California to feed on jellyfish; a distance of about 6,000 miles.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
See a conversation with Dr. Peter Dutton

Scientists believe there are a number of reasons why the leatherback turtle populations have continued to decline over the past three decades. Extensive harvesting of eggs, predation of nests by and other predators, and the accidental capture in are the primary factors involved.

Ricardo Tapilatu, lead author on the Ecosphere paper, and co-authors Manjula Tiwari and Dutton, began assessing and developing a nesting beach census and management plan over a decade ago as part of an international partnership to halt the species decline.

"The turtles nesting at Papua Barat, Papua New Guinea, and other islands in our region depend on food resources in waters managed by many other nations for their survival," said Tapilatu. "It is important to protect leatherbacks in these foraging areas so that our nesting beach conservation efforts can be effective".

"The international effort has attempted to develop a science-based nesting beach management plan by evaluating and addressing the factors that affect hatching success such as high sand temperatures, erosion, feral pig predation, and relocating nests to maximize hatchling output," said Manjula Tiwari, a researcher at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, in La Jolla, California.

The conservation value of nesting beach protection has also been recognized by groups like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) that have raised funds from industry-affiliated members including tuna canners and processors, to help support UNIPA's nest protection program with the local communities on Bird's Head Peninsula.

"NOAA Fisheries Service is committed to doing our part in the international effort to recover the through advancing science, implementing our recovery plans and management efforts such as the establishment of critical habitat off California," said Cisco Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. "Reducing threats on the nesting beaches and at leatherback foraging areas will require continued international cooperation and action if we hope to save Pacific leatherbacks from extinction."

Explore further: Sea turtles begin annual nesting in Fla.

Related Stories

Leatherback sea turtle nests increasing in Florida

April 4, 2011

The number of endangered leatherback sea turtle nests at 68 beaches in Florida has increased by 10.2 percent a year since 1979, according to a new Duke University-led study published in the current issue of the journal Ecological ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Study shows female frogs susceptible to 'decoy effect'

August 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers has found that female túngaras, frogs that live in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, appear to be susceptible to the "decoy effect." In their paper published in the journal ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.