International Sea Turtles Traveling The World Experience Inconsistent National Marine Protections

Source: Hakai Magazine/Erin Van Rheenen 

Photo: Mitch Meyers/Unsplash

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Leatherback turtles—nearly two meters long and weighing up to 500 kilograms—are built to move. They are the only sea turtle to have tough, ridged, rubbery skin instead of a hard shell, and their streamlined shape and powerful front flippers enable them to swim thousands of kilometers through the open ocean during their migrations.

In their multi-year journeys, leatherback turtles face a variety of lethal threats, from ingesting plastic debris to being caught as by-catch by commercial fishers. Yet the protections leatherback turtles get during various stages of their journeys can vary wildly. According to a new study, leatherback turtles will frequently cross through the waters of as many as 30 different countries, each with its own set of laws and enforcement capabilities.

Leatherback turtles are not the only species to face such shifting protections. In the new paper, Autumn-Lynn Harrison, an ecologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and her colleagues used tracking data to analyze the movements of 1,648 individual animals from 14 species—from white sharks to sooty shearwaters to leatherbacks. They found that, cumulatively, these animals visit 86 percent of Pacific Ocean countries during their migrations.

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Photo: Mitch Meyers/Unsplash

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