1 Tahrcountry Musings: Good News - World's Largest Leatherback Turtle Population Discovered

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good News - World's Largest Leatherback Turtle Population Discovered

Here is some good news about Leatherback Turtles. A team of international Scientists have discovered the world’s largest population of nesting leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), on the beaches of Gabon in West Africa. The research was led by the University of Exeter working in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Others who chipped in include University of Florence, IUCN-France, PROTOMAC (Gabon), CNDIO-Gabon, IBONGA-ACPE (Gabon), Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (Gabon), Gabon Environnment, Aventures Sans Frontières (Gabon) and WWF-Gabon. The estimated population is between 15,730 and 41,373 female turtles.

Leatherbacks conservation gathered momentum around the world after populations in the Indo-Pacific crashed by more than 90 percent in the 1980s and 1990s. The leatherback turtle has survived for more than a hundred million years, but is now facing extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed leatherback turtles as critically endangered.

The population of leatherback turtles around the globe have been placed around 43,000 nesting females. The new discovery in Gabon may give a boost to that estimation.

The Gabon study indicated that that around 79 percent of the nesting occurs within National Parks and other protected areas which is a good sign. Gabon had created a network of National Parks in 2002 which has gone a long way in giving protection to Leatherbacks.

The details of the research are published in the May issue of Biological Conservation

Fact Sheet Leatherback
As a major jellyfish predator, the leatherback turtle provides natural control of jellyfish populations. Jellyfish can feed on fish larvae and reduce population growth of commercially important fish. Thus leatherback turtles play a very important role in nature’s scheme of things.

Leatherbacks are the most widely distributed marine turtles, and are found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

The leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle, reaching up to nearly two metres and weighing around 540kg

Leatherbacks are sexually mature at about 10 years or age and may live to be 40 years old.

Leatherback is the deepest diving turtle. The deepest recorded dive is 1.2 kilometres
Unlike other sea turtles, the leatherback does not have a hard shell

The incubation period of Leatherback is around 60 days. The sex of leatherbacks is determined by the temperature of eggs during incubation. Temperatures above 29 degrees centigrade will result in female hatchlings.

Instead of teeth the Leatherback turtle has points on the tomium of its upper lip.

Leatherback has backwards spines in its throat to help it swallow food.

Leatherbacks are also the fastest reptiles on record. They have been recorded to cross 35Km per hour.

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