Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day

Today is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day! Today is a day to celebrate conservation achievements and to continue to work for real protections for these critically endangered sea turtles.

Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day was declared by Governor Jerry Brown and signed into law two years ago. Turtle Island Restoration Network led the effort to recognize the importance of saving these sea turtles with a day with the help of California Assemblymember Paul Fong.

Now, Turtle Island is working to bring attention to two major threats to these sea turtles – the costly driftnet fishery for swordfish off the coast of California and the Hawaiian longline fisheries for swordfish and tuna.

Thankfully in 2001 Turtle Island won a major victory for Pacific leatherbacks with the implementation of the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area.  This area prohibits driftnet fishing between August 15 and November 15 along the California and Oregon coasts. The conservation area has successfully reduced the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001; to near zero between 2001 and 2012.

Still, the driftnet fishery for high-in-mercury swordfish doesn’t make much sense when you consider its size, and the cost to the National Marine Fisheries Service (and taxpayers) to watchdog this fishery and ensure endangered sea turtles are unharmed.

Sadly, these gentle ocean giants are not safe from harm when they leave the coast of California.

They face the Hawaiian longline fisheries, which in the past three month killed four “critically endangered” leatherbacks (pdf). The Hawaiian longline fisheries need to change their ways and learn to fish responsibly to avoid killing endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles.

The cost for not doing so is simply too high. The West Pacific leatherback population is on the brink, and is ranked as “critically endangered.” The IUCN Red List Assessment names fisheries bycatch from driftnets and longlines as the biggest threat to these turtles, along with human consumption of eggs, meat, or other products, and coastal development followed by pollution and climate change. Researchers say their, “findings highlight the urgent need for continued and enhanced conservation and management efforts to prevent the collapse of what might be the last remaining stronghold for leatherbacks in the Pacific.”

The message is clear: the time is now to protect the world’s largest sea turtles.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Todd Steiner is the founder and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. Previously, he was director of the Tuna Dolphin project, which was responsible for bringing to public view the tuna industry’s impact on dolphins and other marine species. He has more than 30 years experience in environmental protection and education. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. He holds an MS in Biology and lives in Forest Knolls, Calif.