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New study shows continued decline in the last remaining stronghold for leatherback sea turtles
Date:2/26/2013

Critically endangered leatherback sea turtle populations in the western Pacific Ocean may be losing their last foothold of survival on the beaches of Indonesia, according to a paper published today in the scientific journal Ecosphere by an international group of scientists.

Researchers from the State University of Papua Indonesia, NOAA Fisheries Service, University of Alabama at Birmingham and World Wildlife Fund Indonesia released a report today documenting the continued decline of leatherback sea turtle nesting in the western Pacific Ocean.

"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. "Our analysis indicates the number of leatherback turtle nests on this beach has declined 78 percent over the last 27 years."

Leatherbacks are the largest of all marine turtles and the largest living reptile in the world weighing up to 2000 pounds and over six feet in length. 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.

Scientists believe there are a number of reasons why the leatherback turtle populations have continued to decline over the past three decades. Extensive harvesting of eggs, predation of nests by feral pigs and other predators, and the accidental capture in commercial fisheries are the primary factors involved.

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
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Contact: Jim Milbury
jim.milbury@noaa.gov
562-980-4006
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Source:Eurekalert

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