- Issue: Summer 2014
Turtle biologist Frank Paladino will never forget the first time he saw a leatherback turtle. He was resting on a beach in Costa Rica after five hours of nighttime turtle tagging and data collection. Suddenly a huge prehistoric-looking creature emerged from the surf; she breathed slow and deep at the water’s edge. Then she lumbered forward, hauling her 1,200-pound body across the sand to where she finally stopped to lay her eggs.
Sadly, these Pacific leatherbacks are under threat. In the Coral Triangle, eggs are often taken by locals to sell or eat. Back at sea, the turtles’ 6,000-mile trek to coastal US feeding grounds too often ends with the turtles tangled and drowning in fishing gear. In only a few generations, leatherback population numbers in the Pacific Ocean have fallen as much as 97%.
In 2012, the US government designated nearly 42,000 square miles of the Pacific as protected foraging area for leatherbacks. Indonesia has also been protecting nesting habitat on its shorelines, supported by WWF’s work empowering local communities to monitor and protect nests.
And in 2013, representatives from the US and West Papua, Indonesia, met with WWF staff and other experts to evaluate leatherback conservation efforts—and have since agreed to work together on behalf of these ancient mariners.