Monterey Bay and our connection to endangered leatherback sea turtles

The endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is one of earth’s oldest species, and the largest reptile living on our planet.

Exactly how big do these turtles get? The largest known Pacific sea turtle — found stranded on a Welsh beach — weighed 2,019 pounds (916 kg) and was over 8 feet (256cm) long!   That is one big turtle, and bigger than those “smart cars” that many of us have seen on the road.  Smart cars weigh a mere 1600 lbs (731kg).

The Pacific leatherback turtle nests in Indonesia, then migrates all the way to Monterey Bay and other parts of the U.S. West Coast.  They take this 6,000 mile journey to feed on abundant jellyfish in our waters.

Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center/NOAA website

These turtles are crucial to our ocean ecosystem because the food that they prefer to eat — jellyfish and similar species — actually helps fish in the West Coast thrive.

Why should we care about endangered turtles?

Without these sea turtles to eat and thin out the jellyfish population, too many jelly fish would eat fish eggs, and there would be less fish for other creatures to eat (including fish that human beings eat).

Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (from NOAA)

A report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Conservation Union, indicated

  • more than 200,000 loggerhead sea turtles, and 50,000 leatherbacks were accidentally caught in fishing gear worldwide — in one year alone!
  • and, populations of both species have fallen by 80 to 90% over the past decade

We now know that most environmental problems — as well as root causes of recent species extinctions — are due to our actions.

Which means…we have the power to reverse this trend, by learning about endangered species and changing our behavior to conserve these species and their ecosystems.  After all, their ecosystem is OUR ecosystem too.

Photo: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

There is some good news for these endangered leatherback sea turtles, at least on the topic of increased public awareness.

A legislative committee is now looking at designating the Pacific leatherback turtle as the official, California state marine reptile.

Excerpt from an article by Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“Until 5 or 10 years ago people had no idea that this was an important foraging ground for leatherbacks,” said Geoff Shester, Monterey-based Oceana’s California program director. “This is raising the visibility of the species so that we recognize and take ownership of what is an important part of the ocean in California.”

In January, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated 17,000 square miles of coastal waters as critical habitat for the giant turtle, stretching from Mendocino to Santa Barbara counties….

“Making the leatherback the official marine reptile will help engage people at sea and on shore in conserving this incredible sea turtle for all time,” said Teri Shore, program director at Turtle Island Restoration Network, the bill’s primary sponsor.    More…

U.S. West Coast critical Pacific leatherback turtle habitat (source: U.S. NOAA)

Our policies, and what we do to protect ancient creatures like these turtles, will ultimately affect our own resources…especially our future food sources.

As a lola (grandmother), I want my grandchildren to know that our generation realized the problems we created, and that we are doing something about it.

Article Update: Great news!  The state of California designated the Pacific Leatherback as the state marine reptile in 2012, and October 15th of every year is designated as Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day.

Related Links:

Turtle Island Restoration Network

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a nonprofit environmental organization based in Marin County, California.

We work to protect endangered marine species, save critical ecosystems, improve consumer choices, encourage government action and inspire corporate responsibility, all to protect marine wildlife and the wild oceans we all rely upon.


The U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources.

Information on leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)


The Marine Research Foundation – Malaysia

The mission of the Foundation is to further the understanding of marine ecosystems and functions, and conserve the abundance and diversity of marine flora and fauna through research, conservation and education activities.

Key objectives of the Foundation include promoting the advancement of indigenous understanding of marine ecosystems, the economy and social well-being of communities, and the relief of underprivileged communities which depend on the marine environment.

Experts Identify World’s Most Threatened Sea Turtle Populations News Release, excerpt:

Top sea turtle experts from around the globe have discovered that almost half (45%) of the world’s threatened sea turtle populations are found in the northern Indian Ocean.

The study also determined that the most significant threats across all of the threatened populations of sea turtles are fisheries bycatch, accidental catches of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species, and the direct harvest of turtles or their eggs for food or turtle shell material for commercial use.  Click here for more…

Article from the IUCN – The Man Who Saves Sea Turles on Dr Nicolas Pilcher – Malaysia

Nick saves sea turtles. In a nutshell that’s what he does. But he has to look far beyond their nesting grounds to make it work.

“Knowing their biology may be one thing, but working with communities, fishermen and industry to make conservation happen is a whole different story,” he says.  To read the article, link here.

Endangered Species Act – Protecting Marine Resources: Fact sheet (PDF) from the NOAA Fisheries Service

California State Library – History and Culture Page, State Symbols

NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources: Sea turtle education material for kids and teachers.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”
Baba Dioum