Leatherback turtles are a species of turtle characterized by their lack of a bony shell and their distinct large size.
Leatherback turtles are in fact so large that they are listed as the fourth heaviest reptile behind three species of crocodile. They have been known to weigh up to 900 kg and grow up to 1.6 metres.
The turtle’s name emanates from the leathery texture of its carapace which is in other species a hard, bony shell.
Leatherback turtles’ conservation status is classified as “Vulnerable.” Their bodies have perhaps what is described as the most hydrodynamic body shape that resembles a large teardrop.
Their anatomy closely resembles other species of turtles in that they have flattened forelimbs that are specially adapted for swimming in open ocean waters.
The front flippers are distinctly larger with claws being absent on both front and back flippers.
Leatherback turtles are also listed among the deepest diving marine-dwelling animals known to man.
It is worth mentioning that leatherback turtles’ diet mainly consists of jellyfish and other soft-bodied marine animals. Find more on what leatherback turtles eat here.
So how many leatherback turtles are left in the world and what are the threats to leatherback turtles? Let’s discuss these among other concerns related to this species of giant turtle below.
How Many Leatherback Turtles Are Left In The World?
Populations of leatherback turtles are distributed between four distinct zones. These are;
- Pacific Ocean
- Indian Ocean
- Atlantic Ocean
- South China Sea
The Pacific Ocean Leatherback Turtle Population
Leatherback turtle Pacific populations are spread in the region between Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, parts of the Northern Hemisphere which include North America.
Other areas where leatherback turtles nest are the West coast of the South American continent, and parts of the southern hemisphere.
Australian leatherback turtles nest along the Queensland coast from Bundaberg to the tip of Arnhem land. These rookeries have always been small and have dwindled in numbers recently all along the QLD coast in Australia.
Experts estimate around two thousand three hundred adult females in the Pacific region.
The Indian Ocean Leatherback Turtle Population
While little research has been conducted on leatherback turtles dwelling in the Indian Ocean, marine life conservationists assert that the Indian Ocean population is genetically distinct from the rest of the species.
The Atlantic Ocean Leatherback Turtle Population
It is estimated that leatherback turtle numbers are higher in the Atlantic region thanks to an abundance of jellyfish; their primary prey.
Their range covers the region off the Canadian coast, to Costa Rica and the biggest leatherback nesting site in Gabon.
The latter plays host to over 30,000 leatherback turtles each year between the months of October and April.
The South China Sea Leatherback Turtle Population
Other suspected leatherback turtle nesting sites are located within the South China Sea region mainly Malaysia.
The region was once considered to be the world’s biggest nesting site, but consumption of turtle eggs has led to their steady decline.
Threats To Leatherback Turtle Populations
Leatherback turtles similar to other species of turtle are at their most vulnerable after hatching.
In their early life stages, leatherback turtles are vulnerable to predation by shorebirds, crabs and small mammals.
Hatchlings that manage to reach the water face the threat of predation by fish and other predatory marine life.
Adult leatherback turtles have only the threat of being eaten by large sharks. Mainly the tiger shark.
The reason for this is that their flesh has too much fat and oil making it unpalatable.
The biggest threats to leatherback turtles are however related to human activities.
Pollution, accidental catches, and entanglement in fishing nets are the most deadly threats to leatherback turtles.
Ingestion of plastic bags has also been known to be fatal as it causes intestinal blockage and malabsorption.
The loss of breeding rookeries from developments and erosion of beaches from developments in the area which affect the tides.
How We Can Reduce The Decline Of Leatherback Turtle Numbers
Humans are the number one cause for the decline of how many leatherback turtles are left in the world. It is up to everybody to stop polluting the land and waterways. It is very easy for plastics on land to end up in the oceans of the world.
It is our responsibility to reverse the effects we have caused and to protect this magical species of turtle.