A new review of leatherback sea turtle science concludes that seven distinct populations of leatherback sea turtles face a high extinction risk. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today (August 10, 2020) a finding that all seven leatherback sea turtle populations remain endangered, denying a petition by the commercial fishing industry to relax some protections.
If trends continue, the review found, U.S. leatherback sea turtles in the Atlantic will decline by half within 30 years. Pacific annual nest counts at the two most important beaches (Jamursba-Medi and Wermon, both in Indonesia) declined annually by 5.7% and 2.3% respectively in the most recent monitoring period.
Today’s announcement confirmed that seven distinct populations of leatherback sea turtles exist around the world, and all meet the definition for endangered species. The species is already listed as endangered throughout its range under the Endangered Species Act. The Services did not propose changes to the existing global listing.
Fishing gear remains the primary threat to leatherback sea turtles. The vast majority of deaths occur outside of U.S. waters, in gillnet fisheries off the nesting beaches in Trinidad.
On August 19, 2020 the California Fish and Game Commission accepted Turtle Island Restoration Network’s petition to list Pacific leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act.