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Species at Risk: The Leatherback Sea Turtle

I love turtles – especially sea turtles.  My favourite is the Leatherback – the largest of all turtles and the world’s largest reptile. They are unfortunately critically endangered globally, and Canada is no exception. Both the Atlantic and Pacific populations in Canada are listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act.

Photo by Canadian Sea Turtle Network

When I was traveling in Costa Rica a number of years ago, I visited a national park that took people on night tours to see Leatherback sea turtles. We walked down a path in the dark with our flashlights towards the ocean and came across a female leatherback laying eggs. I literally gasped when I saw it. I knew they were big – they’re the world’s largest reptile and can grow up to 2 metres in length – and seeing it in front of me was truly incredible.

After seeing them in Costa Rica, I took the time to learn more about this magnificent creature. Leatherbacks are a bit of a mystery. They are powerful swimmers and can travel great distances in short periods – one tagged turtle travelled from the coast of Nova Scotia to Costa Rica in under 4 months. Their range is so large that scientists have actually lost track of their migration patterns, making it difficult to fully understand their habitat requirements, which makes it more difficult to know why their populations are declining.

Leatherbacks are at risk due to a number of threats including poaching (specifically their eggs), loss of nesting habitat due to commercial development (eg. beach resorts), getting entangled in fishing gear which can lead to serious injury or death by drowning, and marine pollution (ingestion of plastic and other debris that is mistaken for food).

The Leatherback sea turtle crosses multiple provincial jurisdictions, including B.C., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Newfound and Labrador coastlines, as well as international waters. Having individual recovery strategies for each population (Atlantic and Pacific) will help these species survive. 

A recovery strategy for these turtles has been developed under the federal Species at Risk Act, and the federal government is working towards stabilizing, and eventually increasing, its ever-declining population. Working and coordinating with the provinces and having a single coordinating body to work in cooperation with other countries will help to gain more knowledge of this majestic sea turtle, and will help lead to its recovery.

This is just one example of how having a federal Species at Risk Act will help protect an endangered species that crosses multiple jurisdictions. To learn more about the recovery process, visit the SARA website. And just for fun, check out this cool video by National Geographic!

What can YOU do to help the Leatherback sea turtle populations in Canada?

  • Learn more about the status of the species and what's being done by the government to help the species recover on the Species at Risk website.
  • Share this blog with your friends!
  • Send a message to the Minister expressing your support for a strong Species at Risk Act.