Leatherback turtle - Population & Distribution

Global distribution of marine turtles.

Populations in freefall worldwide

Previous Population and Distribution
The global population for thi species was estimated to be 115,000 adult females in 1982. By 1996 this had been revised down to about 30-40,000. Leatherback populations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans have undergone dramatic declines in the past forty years. For example, the nesting colony at Terengganu, Malaysia went from more than 3,000 females in 1968, to 20 in 1993, to just 2 in 1993 - there are no signs of recovery.

Similar scenarios have occurred in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Mexico. Numbers of females recorded at four formerly major Pacific rookeries have declined to about 250 in Mexico, 117 in Costa Rica, two in Malaysia, and fewer than 550 in Indonesia.

Between 1996 and 2000, numbers of female leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific population had dropped from 4,638 to 1,690.

Current Population and Distribution
Leatherbacks have been recorded as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

The Pacific may now have as few as 2,300 adult females, making the Pacific leatherback the world's most endangered marine turtle. In the Pacific basin, only the Indonesian population remains as still somewhat abundant (2,983 nests in 1999 in a single beach from 13,000 nests in 1984).

Not all leatherback populations have declined: in southern Africa, three decades of strong protection have increased the small annual nesting population more than fourfold. Recent reports mention that west Africa has an important population with around 10,400 nests per season, but the total area occupied for the leatherbacks is not well known and there is no available historical information on nesting trends of this population.

There have also been increases in nesting in Trinidad, Guyana (although the overall trends are unclear), Suriname and St. Croix. Globally however, declines in leatherback numbers are precipitous, leading to its reclassification as Critically Endangered in 2000 in the IUCN Red List.

The most important nesting beaches now remaining in the Atlantic are found in Suriname, French Guiana, and Gabon. In the Pacific, the few remaining important beaches are in Indonesia, Mexico and Costa Rica, with other rookeries found in Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala.

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