Celebrate 10/15! California’s THUMBS UP to Pacific Leatherbacks!

WAY TO GO, CALIFORNIA!

Leatherbacks get better chance than the grizzly bear

September 26th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation naming the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) the state’s marine reptile.

This Monday, October 15th is — and every October 15th to come:      

Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day!

Special thanks to Assembly member, Paul Fong, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Oceana, and the many organizations, individuals, and legislators who made this happen.

Leatherbacks are the “Texas*-sized” member of the sea turtle species. The largest, they lay the biggest eggs in the highest number of clutches, travel the greatest distances (and to more varied environments — tropical to subarctic), and dive the deepest (like, whale deep, up to 3,000+ ft/900+ m), looking for their favorite food, jellyfish.

Leatherback-Wallace Nichols

Leatherback swimming off Mozambique
photo: Wallace Nichols. Creative Commons

Imagine an animal as delicate and water-filled as a jelly, powering such a huge reptile around the world. The Pacific coast of California is one foraging habitat for leatherbacks, which can now find protection within a 16,000 square-mile “critical habitat zone” up and down the state.

Jellies
photo: Petr Kratochvil

This week’s THUMBS DOWN for HAWAII

The bad news for leatherback and loggerhead turtles hanging out around Hawaii is the National Marine Fisheries Service has relaxed regulations, supporting the island’s long-line industry by increasing the number of turtles that can be legally caught (even killed) as by-catch during swordfish fishing.

Longline & turtle drawing from Sustainable Sushi.com

Image from Sustainable Sushi.net
No artist credit given

In November the numbers for leatherbacks “go up to 26, more than a 60 percent increase, and the loggerhead catch to 34, about a 100 percent increase.” (Washington Post Oct 6, 2012). While these numbers seem small, both sea turtle species have suffered major population declines in the last few decades due to fishing, egg and turtle poaching, and ingesting plastics. Female leatherbacks reach breeding age when they are between 7 and 13 years-old. They may lay up to 10 clutches a year, they only nest every 2 to 7 years (2-4 is average). With all they face surviving to reach adulthood, then reproduce, cutting down threats, rather than raising limits on them, seems prudent.

As bad is the by-catch issue, escaped and discarded plastic is arguably the worst enemy of the ocean and its inhabitants. I taped this photo to my back door as a reminder to take cloth shopping bags with me and to watch for plastic-alternative packaging.

Leatherback hatchling hugs

Leatherback hatchlings
photo: Daphne Goldberg CC

Keep balloons on a tether and dispose of properly–this does NOT include releasing them into the sky*!

* Speaking of Texas and sky, watch for my next blog post, “UPDATE: Kids Winning for the Atmosphere,” coming soon.

6 thoughts on “Celebrate 10/15! California’s THUMBS UP to Pacific Leatherbacks!

  1. Okay, no more Hawaiian swordfish for me, or for that matter (industrailly-farmed or mangrove-destroying) seafood, that is, except for hand caught/single trap shrimps or scallops, etc. When does it become time to mount a boycott of almost all large fish, 90% I hear which have been terminated.

    Too bad we can’t put turtles in protected reserves, like visionaries do for elephants, pandas, or endangered mammals. Or maybe we can in large bays or inland seas. If we net larger turtles, perhaps we can find ways to keep them safe. Not only should there be rigid controls against killing turtles (just like we do bald eagles), but why not enact a $10K fine for drowning an animal that’s lived on this planet for up to 100 million years?

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    • “… why not enact a $10K fine for drowning an animal that’s lived on this planet for up to 100 million years?”

      You’d have my vote on that one!

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