Protected Resources


Rachel O'Shea ©SPC

Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea

Stock Assessment / Estimated Breeding Population

Photo: Leatherback making her nest. Canaveral National Sea Shore

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.

Legal Protection

Natural History

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.

Potential Threats

Current Management Issues

VIDEO: Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Recovery disclaimer external link Watch to find out what NOAA is doing and what you can do to help recover endangered Pacific leatherback populations.

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