According to the Associated Press, more than 41,000 square miles off the West Coast have been designated by the National Marine Fisheries as a habitat for endangered leatherback sea turtles. The designation will go into full effect Feb. 25 and will help protect the area, which is used by the migrating turtles for feeding on jellyfish after traveling thousands of miles across the ocean from its original nesting grounds.
With this new effort to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. coast, here are some facts about the species and concerns over survival.
* The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service reported leatherback turtles are the largest turtles and largest living reptiles in the world with adults weighing around 2,000 pounds and measuring 6.5 feet in length.
* Female leatherbacks lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs and hatchlings, weighing about 45 ounces and measuring only a few inches, emerge after 60 to 65 days.
* The temperature inside the turtle nest determines the sex of the hatchlings, specifically a mix of males and females, occur at temperatures close to 85.1 degrees, males at cooler temperatures and females at higher temperatures, according to National Geographic.
* Leatherbacks migrate an average of 3,700 miles each way between breeding and feeding areas and the largest leatherback ever found washed up in Wales in 1988 and was 8.5 feet long and weighed 2,020 pounds.
* The American Museum of Natural History noted that in 1970, leatherback sea turtles were added to the U.S. federal government's Endangered Species List, but attempts to determine the number of individuals has been difficult.
* Several environmental problems threaten their survival: eating floating plastic waste, losing vital nesting habitat due to land development, getting caught in commercial fishing nets, and being hunted in some areas.
* The Wildlife Conservation Society has helped lead research on the leatherback turtles and, along with scientists, helped discover the world's largest nesting population on the coast of Gabon, where there were an estimated 41,373 turtles using the beaches.
* Additionally, about 79 percent of leatherback nesting occurs within protected areas and national wildlife parks and WCS is continuing to work with local agencies to preserve the species.
* Oregon Live reported in January 2010, the federal government initially proposed including 70,600 square miles of ocean off the West Coast as critical habitat for the turtles.
* The government has also restricted the types of fishing that can take place during the migration and feeding seasons as a way to reduce the number of turtles caught as bycatch.
Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.
- Nature & Environment/Environment/Living Nature
- Nature & Environment/Environment
- leatherback sea turtles