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Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea
Stock Assessment / Estimated Breeding Population
Pacific leatherbacks have declined drastically in the last 20 to 30 years. Historically, the Pacific coast of Mexico supported the largest nesting assemblage of leatherbacks with over half of the world's total nesting females.
Since monitoring of this population began in 1986, it has declined steadily from almost 6,000 nests to fewer than 500 in 1993. Leatherbacks nesting in Malaysia have essentially disappeared, going from about 10,000 nests in 1953 to only one or two a year since 2003. Leatherback nesting also occurs in Costa Rica, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Fewer than 1,500 nesting females per year will lay eggs on beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean.
- Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- Hawaii state law
Leatherbacks belong to a different taxonomic family than the rest of the sea turtles. They have existed in their current form since the age of the dinosaurs. These remarkable creatures survived whatever it was that caused the extinction of so many of their fellow reptilian species. Leatherbacks are highly migratory, often swimming over 10,000 miles a year between nesting and foraging grounds. They are also accomplished divers with the deepest recorded dive reaching over 1200 meters, deeper than even most marine mammals.
Please see NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources website for more details of Leatherback natural history.
- Incidental catch in commercial fisheries.
- Illegal egg harvest at nesting beaches outside of U.S. jurisdiction.
- The ingestion of marine debris.
Current Management Issues
- The Protected Resources Division (PRD) has the responsibility to implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The division is tasked with the recovery of all ESA listed species, including all five species of sea turtle that occur in the region. This includes writing and implementing species recovery plans and permitting/authorizations for important fishery interactions issues.
- Public outreach and education
- Partner with state and local governments and other entities to successfully manage endangered species and provide funding for research and conservation.
- Leatherback Recovery Plan (Jan. 1998, pdf 381kB)
- NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources - Leatherback