Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day in California

pacific leatherback sea turtle is California’s official marine reptile

Leatherback Sea Turtle (photo by Mark Cotter)

I’m Tuga, and I’m a Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Today in California (October 15) is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day (note: it officially starts in 2013)! That is because I am now California’s official marine reptile! To boot, earlier this year 42,000 square miles of ocean off the West Coast of the United States (off California, Oregon, and Washington) was designated as a protected area for us leatherback sea turtles!

How appropriate California is celebrating my kind, as right now I am off the coast of California feasting on jellies (jellyfish). I just completed my annual 6,000 mile migration across the Pacific Ocean from my nesting beach in Indonesia.

I am one of seven species of sea turtles. I am the largest, at up to 7.2 feet (2.2 m) and 1,500 pounds (700 kg). I am the only sea turtle without a true shell. Instead I have thick leathery skin on my back, hence my name “leatherback!”

I am among the deepest diving marine animals, as I can reach depths of 4,200 feet (1,280 m), and hold my breath for over an hour! The deepest known diver is the Cuvier’s beaked whale, which can dive to 6,500 feet (2,000 m) deep. Elephant seals can dive to 5,000 feet (1,500 m) deep for over two hours.

I also challenge the notion that turtles are slow, as I can swim as fast as 21.92 miles per hour (35.28 kph)!

Six (of seven) species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered. There are only a few hundred of us leatherbacks off the West Coast of the United States. Sea turtles all around of the world are in peril because of:

1. destructive and wasteful fishing methods like long lining (we end up as bycatch)

2. poaching of sea turtle eggs from nesting beaches

3. loss of nesting beaches due to development

4. light pollution, which confuses hatchlings using moonlight to find the ocean

5. plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is the most insidious: a dead sea turtle was found with 74 pieces of trash in its stomach, most of it plastic. 260 million tons of plastic a year finds its way into the ocean, and many animals ingest it, especially us jelly loving sea turtles. Plastic bags suspiciously look like jellies to us, and we can’t help but eat it.

You can help by “precycling,” which means avoiding buying plastic to begin with. If you do buy something in plastic, please recycle it! Also bring your own reusable bags to the store in order to avoid using single use plastic bags that often end up in the ocean. All wildlife in the ocean thanks you for your help! You can make a difference everyday!

For more information on sea turtles, visit Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

For information on sea turtle ecotourism visit SEE turtles.

Sign petition to protect sea turtles from deadly drift gill nets

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