Recent scientific evidence shows climate change is changing the fundamental biology of Pacific leatherback turtles–not tomorrow, but today–and making these 100-million-year-old sea turtles more vulnerable to longline and drift gillnet fisheries.

A new study released on the Pacific leatherbacks in Costa Rica suggests that warmer oceans and more frequent EL Nino events–which are thought to be one consequence of climate change–may further complicate the species’ recovery.  Leading sea turtle biologists report that warmer ocean waters have caused female leatherbacks to nest less frequently and take more time to reach sexual maturity.  The scientists believe that warmer water’s reduced oceanic productivity is to blame.

Why is this important?  Simply because if leatherbacks nest less frequently than before, the turtles will have to survive for a longer period of time in the ocean before reproducing.  In short, leatherbacks will have to spend more time running a gauntlet of hooks and nets just to avoid extinction.

Commercial longline fisheries and government decision-makers must respond to this new reality.  We now have direct scientific evidence that global warming makes the consequences of by-catch an even graver threat to the Pacific leatherback.  It is time to remodel our existing policy frameworks to respond to this new threat.

Click below to read the study:

Changed reproductive schedule of eastern Pacific leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea following the 1997–98 El Nino to La Nina transition