Leatherback Turtle - Dermochelys coriacea
Status: Vulnerable … Only about one in 1,000 Leatherback hatchlings make it to adulthood
Location: Found in all ocean basins and have been recorded at sea north of Norway and south of New Zealand. Important rookeries on the coasts of Central and South America, as well as West and South Africa. In summer, leatherbacks visit UK waters.
Size: Typically approximately 2m long and weighing 600 kgs
Habitat: Open ocean.
One of the most important threats to leatherback turtles is accidental entanglement and drowning in fishing gear, especially long lines and drift nets. Leatherbacks are also sometimes killed by humans for their meat, oil and eggs in the tropical countries where they nest. Coastal development can affect important nesting habitats and has a large impact on local populations. Leatherback turtles are also threatened by marine pollution. They can mistake litter, such as plastic bags, for their jellyfish prey and can die as a result of gut blockage after eating it. Some dead stranded leatherbacks have been found to have almost 5 kg (11 lb) of plastic in their stomachs.
Climate change may also have a big impact on the leatherback and other turtle species - with rising surface temperatures likely to affect their future survival. The sex of hatchlings is determined by the temperature inside their nest. A mix of male and female hatchlings occurs when the nest temperature is approximately 29.5 degrees Celsius (85.1 degrees F). Higher nest temperatures will produce females and cooler temperatures will produce males. Rising surface temperatures may result in too many female hatchlings being produced and not enough males!
The sex of hatchlings is determined by the temperature inside the nest.
Did you know?
- Adult leatherback turtles do not have scales but smooth black skin.
- Leatherbacks have the widest migratory range of any reptile and are known to nest on every continent except Europe and Antarctica.
- Leatherbacks are the largest of any sea turtle species and lay the largest eggs.
- Leatherbacks are unique amongst reptiles because they can control their body temperature without the need to regularly bask in the sun. They have a very high metabolic rate, which produces a lot of internal heat, and are insulated with a thick layer of fat. This allows them to keep warm and feed happily in our relatively chilly seas.
What MCS is doing:
- Campaigning to reduce the use of plastic bags across the UK, and to reduce marine litter and other forms of pollution;
- Running turtle and jellyfish sightings schemes in the UK to improve our understanding of these seasonal species;
- Turtle conservation and research work in the UK Overseas Territories in the Caribbean where leatherback turtles nest.