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Report: Leatherback sea turtles losing ground

Biologists concerned about drastic Indonesian nesting decline

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A leatherback sea turtle in the sand. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered leatherback sea turtles are losing ground in one of their last Indonesian breeding areas, where biologists have documented a 78 percent decline in nests in the past 27 years.

Leatherbacks are the largest of all marine turtles and the largest living reptile in the world, weighing up to 2,000 pounds and growing to more than six feet in length.

“At least 75 percent of all Leatherback turtles in the western Pacific Ocean hatch from eggs laid on a few beaches in an area known as Bird’s Head Peninsula in Papua Barat-Indonesia,” said Peter Dutton of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and one of the researchers who co-authored the paper published this week in Ecosphere.

Dutton was joined by scientists from the State University of Papua Indonesia, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and World Wildlife Fund Indonesia.

Female leatherbacks lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs and typically nest several times during a nesting season. After about two months, the hatchlings emerge from the nest and enter the ocean where they mature and may migrate as far away as California to feed on jellyfish; a distance of about 6,000 miles.

Extensive harvesting of eggs, predation of nests by feral pigs and other predators, and the accidental capture in commercial fisheries are the primary factors in the decline, researchers believe.

Ricardo Tapilatu, lead author on the Ecosphere paper, and co-authors Manjula Tiwari and Dutton, began assessing and developing a nesting beach census and management plan over a decade ago as part of an international partnership to halt the species decline.

“The turtles nesting at Papua Barat, Papua New Guinea, and other islands in our region depend on food resources in waters managed by many other nations for their survival,” said Tapilatu. “It is important to protect leatherbacks in these foraging areas so that our nesting beach conservation efforts can be effective”.

“The international effort has attempted to develop a science-based nesting beach management plan by evaluating and addressing the factors that affect hatching success such as high sand temperatures, erosion, feral pig predation, and relocating nests to maximize hatchling output,” said Manjula Tiwari, a researcher at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, in La Jolla, California.

The conservation value of nesting beach protection has also been recognized by groups like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) that have raised funds from industry-affiliated members including tuna canners and processors, to help support UNIPA’s nest protection program with the local communities on Bird’s Head Peninsula.

“NOAA Fisheries Service is committed to doing our part in the international effort to recover the leatherback turtle through advancing science, implementing our recovery plans and management efforts such as the establishment of critical habitat off California,” said Cisco Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “Reducing threats on the nesting beaches and at leatherback foraging areas will require continued international cooperation and action if we hope to save Pacific leatherbacks from extinction.”

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One Response

  1. Turtles are a victim of a US scheme in 1962 to mine West Papua, along with the rain forests and 100,000’s of people killed to silence their plead for freedom.

    The US businessman Robert Lovett and his friend McGeorge Bundy tricked President Kennedy into the deal, a plan to force the Dutch to sign a UN trusteeship agreement which the public was not told was a trusteeship agreement. Today America has its gold & copper mine and the Papuan people are being ethnically replaced by Indonesians. It is tragic that Chapter XII of the UN Charter does not force lawyers to use the word “trusteeship” in a trusteeship agreement, but article 85 of the UN Charter is the only way that the General Assembly in resolution 1752 (XVII) instead of the Security Council was able to direct UN forces to occupy the colony.

    Little wonder France and others refused to vote and Senegal pleaded for its vote to be recorded as opposing res. 1752 (XVII) but the deal was done and for fifty years people as well as turtles have been dying…

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