Critically Endangered Leatherback Turtles Bycatch Hotspots Revealed!

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Green Sea Turtle: South Caicos, Turks and Caicos islands. Photo by: Charlie Gaines

The world’s population of leatherback turtles is rapidly declining due to fishing industries longlines that catch the turtles as bycatch.

John Roe, Department of Biology at University of North Carolina, and his team of researchers used satellites to track 135 adult leatherback turtles with longline fishing effort in order to estimate predicted bycatch hotspots throughout the Pacific Ocean.  The western Pacific nesting populations of leatherbacks had several areas of high risk in the north and central Pacific.  The greatest area of risk was near the primary nesting beaches in tropical seas of the Indo-Pacific islands.

Due to an extreme decline in leatherback turtle populations, they were listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  These turtles are captured on gillnet, trawl, and longline gear accidentally and can seriously get injured and often die when caught.

Leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtles reaching maximum weights of nearly 2,000 pounds and a length of 6.5 feet.  Females lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs several times during the nesting season.  Due to the low number of offspring that survive the distance from the beach into the water after they hatch, it is very important that fisheries try to avoid catching mature leatherbacks, capturing the ones that are essential to repopulating each year.

Leatherback turtle populations are very difficult to manage due to their broad and widespread distribution in waters of numerous countries.  Efforts should focus on these predicted hotspots to foster more targeted management approaches to relieve bycatch.  The protection of these turtles at sea is very important and with the recent help in understanding their habits and traveling patterns through the satellites, scientists will hopefully be able to recommend better management techniques for the future.

For more information see the journal here.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Journal Reference:

J. H. Roe, S. J. Morreale, F. V. Paladino, G. L. Shillinger, S. R. Benson, S. A. Eckert, H. Bailey, P. S. Tomillo, S. J. Bograd, T. Eguchi, P. H. Dutton, J. A. Seminoff, B. A. Block, J. R. Spotila. Predicting bycatch hotspots for endangered leatherback turtles on longlines in the Pacific Ocean. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1777): 20132559 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2559

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