A Moment of Science

The Leatherback Turtle, Part 2

The Leatherback turtle is special because of its ability, unlike other sea turtles, to survive in cold waters.

The Leatherback turtle is the largest of sea turtles, growing as long as six and a half feet, and weighing up to fourteen hundred pounds. One factor that makes the Leatherback turtle special is its ability, unlike other sea turtles, to survive in cold waters.

Unfortunately, another factor that makes the Leatherback turtle special is that it is an endangered species. Despite the fact that the Leatherback female lays an average of one hundred eggs at a time, only a few survive. Part of the problem is that eggs and hatchlings are prey to animal predators.

However, much more dangerous are human predators–and in a variety of ways. Once the eggs are buried, the female returns to sea; so it’s easy for a poacher to dig them up. Humans not only consume the eggs as a source of protein, but use them in certain medicines and as aphrodisiacs.

Another obstacle for the Leatherback is the loss of many of its nesting beaches. Beaches the turtles have been nesting on for thousands of years are now inhabited by hotels and tourists, and if the turtles aren’t frightened away by that alone, their eggs often get crushed by beach traffic.

Yet another problem for the Leatherback is fisheries. Many turtles die due to accidentally being caught in fishermen’s pursuit of other sea creatures. To make matters worse, the leatherback sometimes mistakes litter in the ocean for its normal snack-of-choice, jellyfish. When leatherbacks consume plastic, it gets caught in their digestive tracts and kills them.

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