Leatherback Turtles in Trouble

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A new report says leatherback sea turtles living in the Pacific Ocean are in danger of disappearing. It says the turtle population has dropped sharply since the Nineteen-Eighties. Scientists say the leatherback turtle will disappear from the Pacific Ocean in the next few years unless major changes are made.

Leatherback turtles have survived for millions of years, since the time of the dinosaurs. They are the world's largest turtles. The can weigh more than four-hundred kilograms and be more than two meters long. They feed on jellyfish. Leatherbacks do not have a hard shell like most turtles. Their backs are covered with oily, leathery, ribbed skin.

Leatherbacks usually mate every other year. The females swim thousands of kilometers to warm breeding areas to lay their eggs. They lay their eggs on the beach at night, then return to the ocean. Many people go to beaches to watch the event.

In Nineteen-Eighty-Eight, scientists found that more than one-thousand-three-hundred turtles laid their eggs in Playa Grande, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Ten years later, that number fell to one-hundred-seventeen turtles. The new report blames fishing for the sharp decrease in the number of turtles at Playa Grande. Leatherbacks can get caught in fishing nets and drown. Or they can be pulled into fishing boats and killed.

Fewer than two-hundred-fifty turtles returned to lay eggs last year at a beach in Mexico. Seventy-thousand turtles laid eggs on the beach in Nineteen-Eighty-Two.

The number of female leatherback turtles throughout the world is a matter of dispute. But the number of females returning to beaches in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and other breeding areas has decreased.

The cause of the decreasing number of leatherbacks is disputed. But scientists say governments need to protect areas where the turtles lay their eggs. Scientists say governments also should support centers that help increase the number of leatherback turtles. Scientists also call for reforms in the fishing industry.

There are more leatherback turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers want to know why. They are using a satellite observation system to study the turtles. They say they hope these devices will provide answers that may lead to a recovery of the turtles around the world.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.