About the Species
The leatherback is the largest turtle in the world. They are the only species of sea turtle that lack scales and a hard shell and are named for their tough rubbery skin.
Leatherbacks belong to a different taxonomic family than the six other sea turtle species found in the world. They have existed in their current form since the age of the dinosaurs. Leatherbacks are highly migratory, some swimming over 10,000 miles a year between nesting and foraging grounds. They are also accomplished divers with the deepest recorded dive reaching nearly 4,000 feet—deeper than most marine mammals.
All leatherback turtle populations are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They face threats on both nesting beaches and in the marine environment. The greatest of these threats worldwide are incidental capture in fishing gear and harvest of leatherback eggs and adults. The Pacific leatherback populations are most at-risk for extinction. Pacific leatherbacks are one of eight Species in the Spotlight. NOAA Fisheries has made it a priority to focus recovery efforts on stabilizing and recovering Pacific leatherback populations in order to prevent their extinction.
NOAA Fisheries and our partners are dedicated to conserving and recovering turtle populations worldwide. We use a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and recover these endangered animals. We engage our partners as we develop regulations and recovery plans that foster the conservation and recovery of leatherbacks and their habitats, and we fund research and conservation projects to implement priorities outlined in recovery plans.
Petition to Identify the Northwest Atlantic Leatherback Subpopulation as a DPS and List It As Threatened
In 2017, we received a petition to identify the Northwest Atlantic leatherback subpopulation as a distinct population segment and list it as threatened under the ESA. We found that the petitioned actions may be warranted and published a 90-day finding, which announces commencement of a status review of the species and requests information on leatherback turtles.
Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world. Because adult female leatherbacks frequently nest on different beaches, nesting population estimates and trends are especially difficult to monitor. However, it is estimated that the global population has declined 40 percent over the past three generations.
The Pacific leatherback populations are most at-risk for extinction, as both Eastern Pacific and Western Pacific leatherbacks continue to decline.
Primary nesting habitats of the Eastern Pacific leatherback turtle population are in Mexico and Costa Rica, with some isolated nesting in Panama and Nicaragua. Over the last three generations, there has been a greater than 90 percent decline in this nesting population.
In the Western Pacific, leatherback nesting in Malaysia has essentially disappeared, declining from about 10,000 nests in 1953 to only one or two nests per year since 2003. The largest remaining nesting population which accounts for 75 percent of the Western Pacific population occurs in Papua Barat, Indonesia and has also declined by over 78 percent. Additional nesting habitats occur in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
In the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico, however, leatherback populations are generally increasing. The Atlantic coast of Florida is one of the main nesting areas in the continental United States. Data from this area reveals a general upward trend, though with some fluctuation. In the U.S. Caribbean, nesting in Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and the Virgin Islands continues to increase as well, with some shift in nesting between these islands.
The 2013 5-year status review of the leatherback sea turtle under the ESA provides additional information on abundance and population trends.
- Throughout Its Range
- Northwest Atlantic DPS
CITES Appendix I
- Throughout Its Range
The leatherback is the largest turtle in the world, and has a primarily black rubbery skin with pinkish-white coloring on its underside. They are the only species of sea turtle that lack scales and a hard shell and are named for their tough rubbery skin. Hatchlings have white dotting along the ridges of their backs and on the margins of the flippers.
A leatherback's top shell (carapace) is about 1.5 inches thick and consists of leathery, oil-saturated connective tissue overlaying loosely interlocking dermal bones. Their carapace has seven ridges along its length and tapers to a blunt point, which helps the leatherback move more effectively in water. Their front flippers lack claws and scales and are proportionally longer than in other sea turtles. Their back flippers are paddle-shaped. Both their ridged carapace and their large flippers make the leatherback uniquely equipped for long distance foraging migrations.
Behavior and Diet
Leatherbacks undertake the longest migrations between breeding and feeding areas of any sea turtle, some averaging 3,700 miles each way. They spend most of their lives in the ocean, but females leave the water to lay eggs. Leatherbacks are strong swimmers and can dive to depths of approximately 4,000 feet—deeper than any other turtle—and can stay down for up to 85 minutes.
Leatherbacks lack the crushing chewing plates characteristic of other sea turtles that feed on hard-bodied prey. Instead, they have pointed tooth-like cusps and sharp-edged jaws that are perfectly adapted for a diet of soft-bodied open ocean prey, such as jellyfish and salps. A leatherback's mouth and throat also have backward-pointing spines that help retain gelatinous prey.
Where They Live
Leatherbacks occur in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They occupy U.S. waters in the West Pacific, East Pacific, and Northwest Atlantic.
Pacific leatherback turtle nesting grounds are located in tropical latitudes in the eastern and western Pacific around the world. The largest remaining nesting groups are found on the coasts of northern South America, New Guinea and Papua New Guinea, West Africa, the Solomon Islands, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
Western Pacific leatherbacks feed off the Pacific Coast of North America, and migrate across the Pacific to nest in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Eastern Pacific leatherbacks, on the other hand, nest along the Pacific coast of the Americas in Mexico and Costa Rica. Western Pacific leatherbacks engage in one of the greatest migrations of any air-breathing marine animal, swimming from tropical nesting beaches in the western Pacific (primarily Papua Barat, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) to foraging grounds in the eastern North Pacific. The nearly 7000-mile trans-Pacific journey through the waters of multiple Pacific nations and international water requires 10 to 12 months to complete. The Eastern Pacific leatherback subpopulation nests along the Pacific coast of the Americas from Mexico to Ecuador, and marine habitats extend from the coastline westward. This subpopulation is genetically distinct from all other leatherback subpopulations, despite having some areas of overlap with the Western Pacific subpopulation.
Globally, the most important nesting beach for leatherbacks lies in the eastern Atlantic in Gabon, Africa. The largest nesting population in the western Atlantic is in French Guiana. Within the United States, the majority of nesting colonies are in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with some nesting in southeast Florida as well. Atlantic leatherbacks are distributed as far north as British Columbia, Newfoundland, and the British Isles, and as far south as Australia, Cape of Good Hope, and Argentina. Atlantic Canada supports one of the largest seasonal foraging populations of leatherbacks in the Atlantic. In the Atlantic, nesting female leatherbacks tagged on beaches in French Guiana have been tracked, using satellite transmitters, to the west coast of North America as far north as Newfoundland. Leatherbacks have also been satellite tagged at sea on foraging grounds off Nova Scotia and have been tracked from there to nesting beaches in the Caribbean.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Leatherback turtles grow faster than hard-shelled turtles. However, there is uncertainty in the age that they reach sexual maturity. Estimates range from 9 to 29 years of age. Likewise, little is known about their life expectancy, but they are likely long-lived.
In the United States and Caribbean, nesting season lasts from March to July. Female leatherbacks dig a large body pit to lay their eggs in deep egg chambers/nests. A nesting leatherback will disturb a huge area on the beach and leave behind long, circling tracks. Satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks from the Western Pacific indicate that turtles that nest during different times of the year have different migration patterns. Summer nesting turtles (July through September) have tropical and temperate northern hemisphere foraging regions, while winter (November through February) nesters traverse to tropical waters and temperate regions of the southern hemisphere.
Female leatherbacks return to nest every 2 to 3 years. They nest at night in tropical and subtropical beaches. Leatherbacks nest several times during a nesting season, typically at 8- to 12-day intervals and lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs. The eggs incubate approximately two months before leatherback hatchlings emerge from the nest.
Bycatch in Fishing Gear
The primary threat to leatherback turtle populations worldwide is bycatch in fishing gear. Bycatch primarily occurs in gillnets, longlines, trawls, and trap/pot fisheries.
Harvest of Eggs
Egg collection occurs in many countries around the world and egg harvest has been attributed to catastrophic declines in some areas. Despite conservation efforts, egg harvest continues at certain levels in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
Intentional Killing of Turtles
Sea turtles have been intentionally killed for their meat and skin for hundreds of years. This continues to be a serious threat to leatherbacks, with adult female leatherbacks primarily killed on nesting beaches in some areas.
Vessel strikes can injure or kill sea turtles. Injuries or death may be caused by propellers and blunt force trauma from the vessel’s hull.
Nesting Beach Habitat Loss and Alteration
Development on and near nesting beaches can result in changes that affect nesting and nest success. These human-related changes include beachfront lighting, shoreline armoring, and beach driving. Additionally, nest predation by non-native predators introduced by humans, or changes to the natural beach/dune ecosystem can result in predator imbalances and increase nest predation.
Ocean Pollution/Marine Debris
Sea turtles may die after ingesting fishing line, balloons, or plastic bags, plastic pieces, and other plastic debris which they can mistake for their preferred food. They may also become entangled in marine debris, including lost or derelict fishing gear, and can be killed or seriously injured.
In the Spotlight
Pacific Leatherback Turtle
The Pacific leatherback is one of NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight. This initiative is a concerted, agency-wide effort to spotlight and save the most highly at-risk marine species.
Pacific leatherback sea turtles are genetically and biologically unique. They migrate extreme distances across the Pacific Ocean from nesting to foraging/feeding areas, and are generally larger in size than Atlantic leatherbacks. Unlike populations of Atlantic leatherbacks, Pacific leatherback populations have plummeted in recent decades—Western Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 80 percent and Eastern Pacific leatherbacks have declined by more than 97 percent. Extensive egg harvest and bycatch in fishing gear are the primary causes of these declines.
NOAA Fisheries designated all leatherback turtle populations as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1970. However, the Pacific leatherback population continues to decline. The dire status for Pacific leatherbacks make them a priority for recovery and conservation efforts within NOAA Fisheries and with our partners worldwide to stabilize and prevent extinction of this iconic species.
Where Pacific Leatherback Turtles Live
Pacific leatherbacks are split into two subpopulations—Western Pacific and Eastern Pacific—based on range distribution and biological and genetic characteristics. Western Pacific leatherbacks nest in the Indo-Pacific region and migrate to the tropical waters of the Indonesian seas, the South China Sea, and Malaysia and the Philippines, to the temperate waters of the North Pacific, including areas of open ocean in the central Pacific and coastal areas off the United States, as well as to southeastern Australia and New Zealand. Eastern Pacific leatherbacks nest along the Pacific coast of the Americas in Mexico and Costa Rica and migrate south to foraging grounds off South America.
Western Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 80 percent. Eastern Pacific leatherbacks have declined by more than 97 percent.
Leatherbacks are pelagic (open ocean) animals, but they also feed in coastal waters. Western Pacific leatherbacks engage in one of the greatest migrations of any air-breathing marine animal, swimming from tropical nesting beaches in the western Pacific (primarily Papua Barat, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) to foraging grounds in the eastern North Pacific off the U.S. coast. The nearly 7,000-mile trans-Pacific journey through the exclusive economic zones of multiple Pacific nations and international waters requires 10 to 12 months to complete. In 2012, critical habitat was designated off of the U.S. West Coast (California, Oregon, and Washington), because these areas are key foraging sites for the Western Pacific leatherback.
Adult females require sandy nesting beaches in warm, tropical climates for egg laying.
Like other sea turtle species, leatherbacks face significant threats from entanglement and/or hooking in commercial fisheries (known as bycatch), illegal harvest of eggs and adult turtles, coastal development, pollution, marine debris, and climate change. Leatherbacks are particularly vulnerable to bycatch in fishing gear. Gear modification and best practices have been implemented in many fisheries that have reduced incidental bycatch of leatherbacks, but globally, impacts from artisanal and industrial fishing operations have not been resolved. Today, bycatch remains the most significant threat to Pacific leatherbacks throughout their migratory corridors and foraging/feeding areas.
U.S. Conservation and Management
The United States has taken significant steps to protect leatherbacks in our waters. In the Pacific, a leatherback conservation area was established off the coast of California in 2001 that prohibits drift gillnet fishing from August 15 to November 15 in 213,000 square miles of the Exclusive Economic Zone. In 2009, the Marianas Trench, Rose Atoll, and Pacific Remote Islands marine national monuments were established, prohibiting commercial and recreational fisheries, thus providing important protected areas for leatherbacks in this region. And similar to Atlantic fisheries, Hawaii-based longline fisheries have been regulated to reduce leatherback interactions.
Additionally, boat captains participating in the Hawaii-based longline fishery and the California drift gillnet fishery must attend Protected Species Workshops annually where they receive new and updated information on sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean like the TurtleWatch mapping tool, and are trained on safe handling and release procedures including the resuscitation of sea turtles. Longline fishermen are also required to carry and use dip nets, line cutters, and de-hookers to release any incidentally-caught sea turtles.
While significant conservation activities continue in the United States, the highly migratory nature of Pacific leatherbacks necessitates regular cooperation with international partners to address the main threats.
International collaboration includes participation in several multilateral and regional treaties that have resulted in measures to conserve leatherback populations. Some of the accomplishments under these agreements include the development of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) East Pacific Leatherback Task Force, which has identified measures to reduce mortality of Eastern Pacific leatherbacks in marine habitats and protect nesting sites and nesting females to increase reproductive productivity.
The United States also maintains a leadership role within several Regional Fishery Management Organizations, proposing and/or supporting resolutions to protect sea turtles including binding measures to reduce fisheries interactions.
In addition to regional and multilateral agreements, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. FWS) support bilateral projects (through grants and in-kind support) to recover Pacific leatherbacks throughout their range. For example, in Papua Barat, Indonesia—a significant nesting area for Western Pacific leatherbacks—NOAA Fisheries and U.S. FWS have collaborated with local institutions, like UNIPA, for more than a decade to reduce poaching on nesting beaches, establish regular nesting surveys, improve community engagement in the protection of the nesting beaches, and ensure that protection continues into the future. UNIPA’s work has been instrumental in building local support for conserving and recovering Pacific leatherbacks. As a result, NOAA Fisheries names, Dr. Fitry Pakiding from UNIPA, a Species in the Spotlight hero. NOAA Fisheries and U.S. FWS also work bilaterally with several countries to reduce leatherback bycatch in coastal waters, particularly in the Pacific.
As part of our Species in the Spotlight initiative, NOAA Fisheries developed a 5-year plan of action for the Pacific leatherback which details the key conservation efforts that are needed to recover this critically endangered species. Without focused efforts in the Pacific, leatherbacks may not recover and may become eliminated from the entire ocean basin.
Together with U.S. FWS, we have identified the following priority recovery actions to support over the next five years:
Reduce fisheries interactions.
Improve nesting beach protection and increase reproductive output.
Monitoring and research.
Leatherback turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, listed as endangered. This means that the leatherback turtle is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. NOAA Fisheries is working to protect and recover this species in many ways, with the goal that populations will increase worldwide.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. FWS) have joint jurisdiction for sea turtles, with NOAA having the lead in the marine environment and U.S. FWS having the lead on the nesting beaches. Both federal agencies, along with many state agencies and international partners, have issued regulations to eliminate or reduce threats to sea turtles, while working together to recover them.
Recovery Planning and Implementation
To help identify and guide the protection, conservation, and recovery of sea turtles, the ESA requires NOAA Fisheries and U.S. FWS to develop and implement recovery plans, in close coordination with stakeholders, for each listed sea turtle species. Recovery plans provide a blueprint for conservation of the species and measurable criteria to gauge progress toward recovery.
The major recovery actions for leatherback sea turtles include:
Protecting turtles on nesting beaches.
Protecting nesting and foraging habitats.
Reducing bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries.
Reducing the effects of entanglement and ingestion of marine debris.
Working with partners internationally to protect turtles in all life-stages in foreign waters.
Supporting research and conservation projects consistent with Recovery Plan priorities.
Two recovery plans have been developed to recover and protect leatherback turtle populations. Each is focused on the unique needs of turtles in the various regions:
The highly migratory behavior of sea turtles makes them shared resources among many nations, so conservation efforts for sea turtle populations in one country may be jeopardized by activities in another. This means that protecting sea turtles on U.S. nesting beaches and in U.S. waters alone is not enough to ensure the continued existence of the species. Learn more about international conservation efforts below.
NOAA Fisheries is working to minimize effects from human activities that are detrimental to the recovery of leatherback turtle populations in the United States and internationally. Together with our partners, we undertake numerous activities to support the goals of the leatherback turtle recovery plans, with the ultimate goal to delist the species.
Efforts to conserve leatherback turtles include:
Protecting habitat and designating critical habitat.
Rescue, disentanglement, and rehabilitation.
Eliminating the harvest of turtles and their eggs.
Eliminating the harassment of turtles on nesting beaches through education and enforcement.
Consulting with federal agencies to ensure their activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species.
Pacific leatherbacks are one of eight NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight.
Critical Habitat Designation
Once a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat. Those areas may be designated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the designation affect land ownership. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
In 1979, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for endangered leatherback turtles for coastal waters adjacent to Sandy Point, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2012, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also designated critical habitat for endangered leatherbacks along the U.S. West Coast.
View critical habitat maps for leatherback turtles:
To reduce the bycatch of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, we have enacted regulations in certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that interact with sea turtles. Measures include:
Changes to fishing practices.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries has worked closely with the shrimp trawl fishing industry to develop turtle excluder devices to reduce the mortality of sea turtles incidentally captured in shrimp trawl gear. TEDs that are large enough to exclude even the largest sea turtles are now required in shrimp otter trawl nets.
Since 1989, the U.S. has prohibited the importation of shrimp harvested in a manner that adversely affects sea turtles. The import ban does not apply to nations that have adopted sea turtle protection programs comparable to that of the U.S. (i.e., require and enforce the use of TEDs) or to nations where bycatch in shrimp fisheries does not present a threat to sea turtles (for example, nations that fish for shrimp in areas where sea turtles do not occur). The U.S. Department of State is the principal agency of this law, while we serve as technical advisor. We provide extensive TED training throughout the world.
Additionally, we have been involved in cooperative gear research projects, implementation of changes to gear and fishing practices, and safe handling protocols designed to reduce sea turtle bycatch and mortality in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries, the American Samoa and Hawaii-based longline fisheries, the Atlantic sea scallop dredge fishery, the Chesapeake Bay pound net fishery, and non-shrimp trawl fisheries in the Atlantic and Gulf.
Bycatch in fishing gear is the primary anthropogenic source of sea turtle injury and mortality in U.S. waters. The most effective way to learn about sea turtle-fishery interactions is to place observers aboard fishing vessels. Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries identifies commercial and/or recreational fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific Ocean that are required to have observers to record sea turtle interactions. The purpose of observing these fisheries is to:
Learn more about sea turtle interactions.
Evaluate measures to reduce fisheries impacts/bycatch of protected sea turtles.
Determine whether additional measures may be necessary to prevent sea turtle bycatch.
NOAA Fisheries determines which fisheries are required to carry observers to monitor potential interactions with sea turtles through an annual determination. Observers may also be placed on fisheries through our authorities under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Sea Turtle Stranding and Response
A stranded sea turtle is one that is found on land or in the water dead, injured, sick, or exhibiting usual behavior. One of the most well-known examples of mass strandings is when cold-stunned sea turtles strand during winter months on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. During these events, thousands of turtles may require care.
The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network was established in response to the need to better understand the threats sea turtles face in the marine environment, to provide aid to stranded sea turtles, and to salvage dead sea turtles that may be useful for scientific and educational purposes. The STSSN collects information on and documents strandings of marine turtles along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts and includes federal, state, and private partners. This information is compiled into a centralized STSSN database.
NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program rehabilitates and studies stranded sea turtles throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Other state and local organizations respond to sea turtle strandings on the U.S. West Coast.
The actions taken by stranding network participants improve the survivability of sick, injured, and entangled turtles while also helping scientists and managers expand their knowledge about threats to sea turtles and causes of mortality.
Learn more about the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.
The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires international cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals. We have a broad national and international program and work closely with partners under two international environmental agreements that deal exclusively with sea turtle conservation:
Additional international treaties and agreements include:
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES): Listed in Appendix I, which prohibits international trade of wild flora and fauna.
Cartagena Convention: Protected under Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol.
The leatherback turtle was first listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered in 1970. The 2013 ESA 5-year review of the leatherback sea turtle recommended retaining the listing for leatherbacks as endangered species. NOAA Fisheries and U.S. FWS also recommended an analysis and review of the species to determine if leatherbacks should be categorized by distinct population segments.
In 2017, we received a petition to identify the Northwest Atlantic leatherback subpopulation as a DPS and list it as threatened under the ESA. The petition included a detailed narrative (PDF, 57 pages) and State notification (PDF, 72 pages). We found that the petitioned actions may be warranted and published a 90-day finding, which announces commencement of a status review of the species and requests information on leatherback turtles.
Turtle Excluder Devices and Other Protections
In 1992, we finalized regulations to require turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawl fisheries to reduce interactions between turtles and trawl gear. Since then, we have changed these regulations as new information became available on increasing the efficiency of TEDs. For example, larger TEDs are now required to exclude larger turtles.
We have also implemented additional measures to reduce sea turtle interactions in fisheries through regulations and permits under both the ESA and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act including the use of large circle hooks in longline fisheries, time and area closures for gillnets, and modifications to pound net leaders.
Regulatory Actions & Documents
90-Day Finding on Petition to Identify Northwest Atlantic Leatherback Turtle as Distinct Population Segment
NOAA Fisheries funds others’ and conducts our own research on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the leatherback sea turtle. The results of this research are used to inform conservation management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for the endangered leatherback.
Turtle population assessments ideally include information on the species’ abundance and distribution, life history, and human impacts. This information can help us evaluate the effectiveness of conservation and recovery measures, and can help guide actions to enhance recovery. To estimate population abundance, researchers conduct aerial and vessel-based surveys of selected areas and capture and mark turtles in the water and on beaches. We also incorporate data collected on nesting beaches, via stranding networks, and from fisheries observer programs. Other information that informs sea turtle population assessments includes population structure (genetic analyses), age to maturity, survivorship of the various life stages (e.g., hatchling, juvenile, adult), foraging and reproductive behavior, movement and distribution, and habitat studies.
Satellite Tagging and Tracking Studies
Satellite telemetry allows researchers to track sea turtles as they swim from place to place. These satellite tags are designed and attached in a manner that minimizes disturbance to the turtle. The tags will eventually fall off. The data help us understand migration patterns, identify feeding areas, and identify where turtles overlap with their primary threats (e.g., fishing gear).
NOAA Fisheries’ scientists began tracking Pacific leatherbacks from the California foraging grounds in 2000 and have expanded these studies to the nesting beaches in the western Pacific after documenting that the California turtles were from there. Learn more about tagging and tracking of leatherbacks in the Pacific:
Research to Reduce Bycatch in Fishing Gear
We observe fisheries to understand the amount of sea turtle bycatch in various fisheries and the ways in which leatherbacks interact with fishing gear. We develop, evaluate, and modify fishing gear and/or fishing practices to reduce sea turtle bycatch while at the same time retaining a sustainable fish catch. These efforts include TED development for trawl fisheries, use of circle hooks and certain bait types in longline fisheries, time and area closures for gillnets, and modifications to pound net leaders.
Sea Turtle Genetics
NOAA Fisheries’ National Sea Turtle Molecular Genetics Center serves as a worldwide resource and repository for sea turtle tissue and DNA samples and constitutes a major area of research supporting sea turtle conservation. For example, a turtle’s unique genetic “fingerprint” can be used to determine the nesting population it belongs to, and in some cases can identify parental and sibling relationships.
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Data & Maps
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