The Blog Aquatic » turtles News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Species Spotlight: Leatherback Sea Turtles Fri, 30 Nov 2012 15:00:19 +0000 Carmen Yeung

The leatherback sea turtle has spent over 100 million years living beneath the ocean’s waves. It is the longest surviving and one of the largest reptiles on earth. With a heritage that goes back to the dinosaur era, the leatherback sea turtle’s impressive list of accomplishments is virtually unmatched.

Leatherback sea turtles:

  • Weigh in between 500 and 2,000 pounds
  • Can reach lengths from 4 to 8 feet long
  • Live up to 100 years
  • Dive to extreme depths, often deeper than 4,000 feet
  • Swim great distances, such as traveling over 7,000 miles

Leatherbacks are noticeably distinct from their sea turtle brethren: their heads are not retractable; their flippers do not have claws; and a specialized, rubbery and flexible carapace exists in place of a hard shell. A warming layer of fat as well as a relatively low metabolic rate and  ability to alter blood flow keeps the leatherback cozy in frigid water.

It should be no surprise, then, that the leatherback also has the distinction of being the most widely distributed sea turtle species in the world. Gliding through the vast waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea, leatherbacks go on an often-perilous journey to reproduce and obtain food.

Cruising for squid, sea squirts and jellyfish (whose tentacles they find a particular delicacy), the leatherback sea turtle utilizes its top secret weapon – backward-pointing spines that cover its mouth and throat. This prevents jellyfish from escaping before being swallowed as dinner.

The female leatherback deposits 60 to 120 eggs during each of the four to five trips she makes to shore per nesting season, often at the same location she was born; this is the only point in her life that she will leave the water. Male leatherbacks never return to shore after making that first momentous and hazardous journey from the nest across the beach and into the water after birth.

On the endangered species list since 1970, most leatherback nesting populations have plummeted more than 80 percent in the Pacific. Scientists estimate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings lives to see adulthood.

This frightening decline stems from habitat loss, boat strikes, the poaching of young turtles and eggs from nesting beaches for human consumption, environmental contamination from oil and gas exploration and extraction, death by injury or accidental drowning in fisheries, and death by ingestion of plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

Together, we can work to ensure that this 100-million-year-old marvel does not disappear forever. Ocean Conservancy is helping introduce shrimp fishing gear that helps prevent leatherback sea turtles and other wildlife from being caught and killed incidentally. And our International Coastal Cleanup helps remove millions of pounds of trash from beaches and waterways each year, preventing leatherbacks and other wildlife from accidentally ingesting it.

With your support, Ocean Conservancy can make an enormous impact on the lives of these truly remarkable sea turtles.

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What To Do When You See an Entangled Animal: Part II Mon, 16 Jul 2012 22:08:33 +0000 Carmen Yeung

Though your first instinct may be to try and free a marine mammal or sea turtle, entanglement experts strongly urge you to resist this understandably natural impulse. Credit: Fort Meyers Beach Government

This is a follow-up to my original post about helping entangled animals. Readers requested more information about why you shouldn’t try to disentangle marine mammals, as well as more information about helping crustaceans and other smaller animals.

Why shouldn’t I try to help an entangled mammal or sea turtle?

Though your first instinct may be to try and free a marine mammal or sea turtle, entanglement experts strongly urge you to resist this understandably natural impulse because a person without training can seriously hurt both himself and the animal. For example, approaching an entangled seal might scare it back into the water, where it might end up drowning. Also, even if you successfully remove debris from, say, a dolphin, it could have an infection resulting from wounds and may require professional medical attention. In this case, prematurely releasing the animal back into the ocean will endanger its life. Also, many of these animals are strong, heavy, and unpredictable, which is why calling a stranding center nearest you is the best way you can help an animal. 

OK, but what about something like a crab? Can you give me tips for helping smaller and less dangerous animals?

If you find a crab entangled in a piece of debris such as a fishing net, you first need to get a good hold of the critter without getting pinched. To pick up a medium size crab, pick up the crab from behind, grabbing it at the base of its swimming leg where it connects to the main body. Hold it so that your thumb is on top of the joint and your index finger is curled underneath. For a smaller crab, gently pinch the top and bottom with your thumb and index finger.

After getting a firm hold of the crab, carefully cut away the debris that is entangling it. Do not pull the material since you could end up pulling and injuring a leg. After cutting away most of the material, carefully and gently remove the remaining bits to free the crab.

Remember to always pay attention to the crab since a pinch can be very painful and could result in a bacterial infection.

How can I help reduce the chances of an animal entanglement?

Whether you are strolling on the beach or simply walking down the street, you can help protect our ocean by disposing of trash properly and prevent the wind or rain from carrying your trash into a body of water.

Decreasing your amount of waste and ensuring that it is disposed of properly can reduce marine debris. Recycling and reusing can significantly decrease the amount of litter reaching marine and coastal waters. There are simple things you can do every day to minimize your impact on ocean trash:

  • Be sure to properly dispose of fishing lines and lures, because animals might mistake them for food if they end up in the water.
  • Avoid using helium balloons since they often end up the water, which animals once again, might think is food. A belly fully of garbage could cause an animal to starve to death.
  • Bring your own reusable shopping bags whenever you shop. This minimizes the amount of waste you produce since you’re not using plastic bags.
  • Always recycle as much as you can. Take advantage of recycling centers and stations.


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Why You Wanna Bully the Ocean? Thu, 10 May 2012 18:10:33 +0000 Guest Blogger

Credit: Niklas Hellerstedt flickr stream

Almost overnight, an annual spending bill that should be a routine affair has become a smorgasbord of rollbacks of ocean protections. The House of Representatives is currently voting on an appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. Going into debate, President Obama was already concerned that funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t going to be high enough to allow the agency to fulfill its vital mission, but on the floor of the House, Representatives aren’t satisfied with taking the ocean’s lunch money and are going for some more serious bullying.

First and foremost is the blocking of any and all attempts to better coordinate how the government both uses and protects the ocean. Congressman Flores of Texas introduced an amendment that blocks implementation of the National Ocean Policy which at its heart simply encourages better coordination for all the things we do in the ocean. Blocking it could devastate services many businesses and communities rely on. Congressman Markey said that opposing the National Ocean Policy is like opposing air traffic control.

Earlier in the day an amendment passed from Rep. Southerland of Florida which would prevent even the consideration of catch shares programs in the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast that could more fairly manage fishing in those waters. Our own Elizabeth Fetherson told Greenwire: “Unilaterally taking these off the table and saying you can’t consider these tools is sort of unnecessarily handcuffing the fishery managers who … have been tasked with looking at the region’s needs and designing the best management plan.  These are pretty valuable tools to give the commercial fishery what they want, stability and value, and still protect the resources under their mandate under the law.”

In another poke in the eye, Rep. Landry of Louisiana introduced an amendment, which passed, to block improved protections for endangered sea turtles. Just this week NOAA proposed a rule requiring that shrimp boats install “turtle excluder devices” in their nets to prevent turtles, like the endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, from getting entangled.  This technology has added economics benefits of making shrimp boats more fuel efficient, and improving quality of catch—but now a loophole to the requirement will remain in place.

There were a couple of minor bright spots—a slight increase in funding for marine debris programs and regional ocean partnerships—but on balance the bill is bad news for anyone who understands how much our country depends on a healthy ocean and who cares about ocean wildlife.

The good news is that this bill is not done, and must still go through the Senate as well where hopefully cooler heads and a more balanced approach to ocean protection can prevail.

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