Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Monday, 23rd December 2013
Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys Coriacea) are the largest and most migratory of all of the sea turtles existing on our planet today. The largest recorded leatherback to date was a male weighing 916kg! This makes them very unique species which make up a part of the dynamic biodiversity in the tropic and subtropic regions on our earth. Their large size however, leaves them very conspicuous and they are therefore vulnerable to illegal poaching activities - especially when the females go to their preferred beaches to lay their eggs.This is not the only risk these turtles face; their eggs are also attractive to poachers as they are used for food. Bycatch from fisheries is another danger as is the entanglement within used or dis-used fishing equipment and marine debris. Furthermore, plastic bags floating around in the oceans (which take around 200-1000 years to degrade) appear to turtles as tasty jellyfish.
The Leatherbacks have an extensive range; from the tropics, to the subtropics, to the temperate and even the subarctic regions of the world. They travel in search of food, mates and nesting grounds. The non-breeding adults journey to the colder regions in search of food such as jellyfish and other invertebrates. They are able to do this due to a highly developed metabolic system which allows them to regulate their body temperatures (also known as 'gigantothermy') where ever they may be. This is also beneficial for females laying their eggs on their chosen beaches.
An astonishing and awe-inspiring piece of information about these incredible reptiles is that their long distance movements to find food and nesting spots are not random in timing or location (Eckert et al, 2012). Some say that they possess an innate sense of awareness of their frequented waters - which expand from temperate to tropical latitudes all over the world. More often than not, they choose the most profitable foraging grounds to feed. They are at one with the oceans, its incredible!
The largest colonies of leatherbacks are situated in the Southern Caribbean and Central West Africa. Sea Turtle volunteer projects with us at WorkingAbroad could take you to; the stunning island of Grenada in the Caribbean. Or to the beautiful Watamu sea turtle reserve in Kenya (which was featured on David Attenborough's Africa series). Or even to the spectactular Pacific coast in Costa Rica.
These enchanting creatures are currently on the 'Red List of Threatened Species' which was classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Populations of Leatherbacks have been decimated over the years and is contiuning due to poor governmental management world-wide as well as environmental and exploitational factors. Local community projects (such as ours stated above) are making a real difference for the protection of these turtles, not just by monitoring their egg laying successes and rehabilitation, but also through education which aims to raise awareness. Even just having a presence on the beaches deters illegal activity. The Leatherbacks are part of the the Dermochelyidae turtle family group and they are the last remaining members (8 extinct already!). This reveals just how severe the threats to these reptiles really is. These projects with WorkingAbroad are making a real difference to the safety and population growth of these absolutely manificent creatures!
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