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News Coverage: Leatherback Watch Program Success Chronicled in California Coast Newspapers

Our citizen-science monitoring project, the Leatherback Watch Program, enjoyed fantastic success this summer coordinating with West Coast scientists, charter boats, and sailors to compile and share sightings of the critically endangered West Pacific leatherback sea turtle and this success was chronicled in several California news publications.

 

Click here to visit our Leatherback Watch Program web page.

The Pacifica Tribune and the Monterey County Weekly both published stories in print and online, which are shared below. Each article highlights the efforts of project coordinator Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project as well as the valuable contributions of project partners sharing the sightings, photos, and videos.

Pacifica Tribune

Have you seen this sea turtle? Rare leatherbacks spotted by network of activists organized by SeaTurtles.org

 

October 25, 2011

In an effort to enhance recovery prospects for the critically endangered Pacific Leatherback sea turtle, Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org) today announced the final 2011 “citizen scientist” research voyage of its all-volunteer Leatherback Watch Program. The program tracks sightings of leatherbacks off the northern California coast, coordinating with recreational sailors, whale watchers, and scientists. The region is an essential feeding area for leatherbacks that swim across the entire Pacific Ocean from nesting beaches to reach the abundant jellyfish blooms that occur each summer in the California Current marine ecosystem. The Leatherback Watch Program recorded over twenty sightings in 2011.

“Seeing a critically endangered leatherback is a rare and unforgettable experience and compiling these sightings is really boosting our local conservation and advocacy outreach,” said Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. a marine biologist and campaigner for www.seaturtles.org. “Knowing exactly when they arrive, where they are most abundant, and how many are out there helps us shape new protected areas free from industrial fisheries that are their leading threat.”

The Leatherback Watch Program began in 2010 to work collaboratively with charter vessels, marine researchers and local yacht clubs to compile, record and communicate sightings of Pacific leatherbacks off the West Coastof the United States using photos and GPS coordinates to validate the data for use in ongoing marine ecology studies.

“The best way to monitor a species is to collaborate with others and create a network,” said Kate Cummings from Blue Ocean Whale Watch based in Moss Landing. “The Leatherback Watch Program is doing just that: getting the public involved to better understand the movements and habits of the endangered leatherback turtles to aide in conservation.”

“Seeing this rare sea turtle was the highlight of our day and taking part in the voluntary Leatherback Watch Program transformed our lucky sighting into another data point in the ongoing conservation work of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project” said captain Larry Twomey, calling from his yacht offshore of Monterey.

With the help of citizen scientists like Twomey, the Leatherback Watch Program has recorded sightings from Point Sur California up to British Columbia, Canada. Visitors onboard with the Blue Ocean Whale Watching in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Oceanic Society in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary have scored the most sightings this summer. The majority of sightings were off the California coast in an area slated to be designated as protected critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for these marine reptiles on November 15.

“The unfortunate fact is that we have few remaining Leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean,” said Marc Ward of Sea Turtles Forever, who shared the majority of sightings from Oregon and Washington. “They are hanging by a thread as far as overall numbers in the Pacific.”

Leatherbacks grow up to eight feet long, can weigh close to a ton, have survived the extinction of dinosaurs over 65 million years ago virtually unchanged, but are now under a serious threat of extinction in the Pacific. Populations of the Pacific leatherback have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 25 years under the constant assault of industrial fishing, particularly the deadly interactions with longline and gillnet fishing gear. Illegal poaching, vessel strikes, entanglement in marine debris, and plastic pollution ingestion all harm and kill these imperiled animals. For over twenty years, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project www.seaturtles.org has worked from California and the Gulf of Mexico with communities across the globe to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles from slipping closer to extinction.

“It is always so nice to hear from participants of the Leatherback Watch Program who are willing to spend time out of their day to give us information, and who are willing to share their photos and videos with us, too,” said Ming Ong, intern with www.seaturtles.org in charge of outreach to the Leatherback Watch Program partners.

Monterey County Weekly

Feds launch leatherback protections on the Central Coast; conservationists log sightings.

By Joel Ede, Thursday, October 27, 2011

The leatherback turtle is a rare and cryptic animal that has existed, almost unchanged, since before the dinosaurs. A select group of these resilient reptiles travels trans-Pacific every year to spend their late summers munching swarms of jellies on the Central Coast.

The Leatherback Watch Program, organized by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, has scientists, whale-watchers and recreational boaters from Washington to California keeping a close eye out for the turtles in an effort to better understand and conserve the species.

Though leatherbacks are present in or near Monterey Bay every summer, a large bloom of their favorite food, Pacific sea nettle jellies, drew the giant reptiles in larger numbers than usual this year.

Naturalist Kate Cummings of Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Moss Landing says the seven leatherback sightings she’s reported to the program this season more than doubles what she’s seen in the last two years combined.

“We always relay the position, time of day, sea conditions, and what species of jellies were present,” Cummings says. “Plus, we take photos and try and capture the distinct orange spot on the backs of their heads for identification.”

Marine Biologist Christopher Pincetich and Sea Turtle Restoration Project are on the cusp of realizing the largest critical habitat for sea turtles ever in U.S. waters. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to finalize habitat plans tailored specifically for leatherback conservation by Nov. 15 of this year.

The habitat includes 46,000 square miles of California coastal waters from Point Arena to Point Vincente – Monterey Bay sits right in the middle – and a 24,500-square-mile marine area from Cape Flattery, Wash., to Oregon’s Umpqua River that would be free of destructive long-line and drift gill-net fishing from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15 every year.

“The Leatherback Watch Program has upticked the awareness, allowing folks to share their observations,” Pincetich says. “Raising public awareness is key in the validation of leatherback protection.”