Assessment on Extinction Of Dermochelys Coriacea 2

The leatherback sea turtle, known scientifically as Dermochelyscoriacea, is unique amongst all the other groups of sea turtles.The leatherback sea turtle is the biggest, deepest-diving and mostmigratory of all sea turtles (Bagheera 2015). It is a circum-globalspecies, meaning that leatherbacks can be found throughout almost allthe oceans. However leatherback sea turtles nest on tropical beachesin the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans (Ordonez et al. 2007).These amazing turtles are now critically endangered due to, but notintrinsically limited to, a combination of illegal trade,overharvesting, irresponsible fishing practices and habitat loss dueto global warming (Martinez et al. 2007). This paper is a literaturereview that covers information about the importance of theleatherback sea turtle, the cause of their decline and what is beingdone to help conserve them in the ecosystem.

Importanceto the ecosystem

The leatherback sea turtles are important to the food chain, as theyare a source of food for humans and other animals. Around the world,people harvest the species’ eggs and use them as a delicacy(Lewiston et al. 2004). The species is a delicacy mainly to the Asianpeople, especially Thailand and Malaysia. In these countries, thepeople make efforts to feed them and provide homage as they wait forthem to lay eggs. In Malaysia, despite the fact that the turtle ispractically locally extinct, the people still consider it as adelicacy. Other cultures such as the Caribbean’s consider the eggsto be more than just a delicacy, but also a source of medicineailments.

In their habitat, the leatherback sea turtles are major jellyfishhunters. This helps to keep the jellyfish population in check.According to Lewinston et al (2004), if there is lack of naturalcontrol of numbers of any particular species in the naturalenvironment, the dynamic equilibrium of the ecosystem may be lost,hence affecting the general balance of all other species. At the sametime, by keeping the jellyfish numbers in check, the leatherback seaturtles balance the food chain which directly affects the humanbeings. According to Bolten (2003), jellyfish diet is mainlycomprised of larval fish. When the larval fish mature, humans forfood and other purposes commercially hunt them.

The leatherback sea turtles are also one of the few species that feedon seagrass (Bjorndal 1997). Seagrass, just as normal lawn grass,needs to be cut short for the healthy balance of the ocean floorecology. Additionally, the leatherback sea turtles help to improvethe condition of the beaches. Bjorndal (1997) says that beaches andsand dune systems do not normally get many nutrients during the year,meaning that the amount of vegetation that grows in them is reduced.The reason is that the sands do not hold enough nutrients. However,leatherback sea turtles are among the species of sea turtles that laytheir eggs at the beaches during the nesting season. These eggs helpto raise the fertility at the beaches, hence helping the vegetationto thrive.

The leatherback sea turtles are also important for nutrient cyclingin the oceans (Bjordan 1997). They are equipped with powerful jaws,which they use to feed on hard-shelled organisms, such as thecrustaceans. This helps to reduce the shells into smaller fragmentsthat can be easily transferred to other parts of the ocean. By simplybreaking the shells into smaller fragments, they fasten the rate atwhich these shells disintegrate, hence significantly increasing therate at which nutrients from these shells can be obtained by otherspecies (Bouchard and Bjorndal 2000). Additionally, their eggs helpincrease the ocean’s nutrient count. The eggs are penetrated byroots, which obtain nutrients from them and distribute them tospecies.

Causeof decline


One of the major causes of leatherback sea turtles’ extinction isover poaching. According to Broderick et al (2007), the leatherbacksea turtle is valued for its prized food for humans and animals. Theyare easy to hunt, as the humans maximize on the chances they get whenthey are hatching. In Asia, they are overexploited for theirmedicinal value. In many other parts of the world, they are huntedfor their nutritional value. According to Reina et al (2002), theturtles are mainly hunted in Latin America for use as aphrodisiac andenergy. Reina et al say that the defensive tactic that theleatherback sea turtles use to maintain their numbers is laying manyeggs. However, this has counterproductive effects, as it encouragesthe people to hunt and tame them even more. The condition has becomeso bad that they are now being used beyond just for food. InIndonesia, hundreds of thousands of leatherback sea turtles have beenkilled for leisure-objects ornamentation, such as bags and souvenirs.


Hays (2004) identifies irresponsible fishing as one of the leadingcauses of the leatherback sea turtles. Given that the species cansurvive in a number of oceans, they make lengthy migrations as theyhatch from the beach to beach. As such, they get exposed to a varietyof threats. Despite the fact that some authorities in variousinternational waters have strict fishing regulations, some lack thesame. In some areas, such as the pacific waters under Japaneseauthorities, the leatherback sea turtles face the biggest threats.The pacific waters are some of the biggest fishing grounds in theentire world (Hays, 2004). Here, the turtle are caught, amongst othersea species, by giant driftnets, some floating as much as 30 mileslong. The turtles cannot survive long in these fishnets, often dyingwithin 40 minutes of getting caught. According to Kaplan (2005), overthe past few decades, hundreds of thousands of leatherback seaturtles have lost their lives in these overfished grounds.


Chaloupka et al (2008) identify global warming as another major causefor their extinction. The rate of the global warming exceeds theability of the turtles to naturally adapt to the dramatic changes inthe environment. For example, the upsurge of the sea level,facilitated by massive melting of the polar ice, is alreadysignificantly contributing to the loss of thousands of theleatherback sea turtles in the pacific (Choupkal et al. 2008). At thebeaches, there they lay their eggs, the increasing temperature havemade the sands too hot for the eggs to hatch naturally. According toPatino-Martinez et al (2012), the increasing sand heat affectshatchlings by changing their natural sex ratios. The hottertemperatures favor the growth of female hatchling. The loss of sexbalance means that the future generations of the leatherback seaturtles are significantly affected. According to Patino-Martinez etal (2012), given that the leatherback sea turtles travel across theoceans to find prey and hatch, the changing global climate affectsthem significantly. The rising temperatures in some parts of theoceans force them to move to even more hostile environments, whereother agents of extinction such as hunting affect their numbers.


There are a number of efforts that have been put into saving theleatherback sea turtles from extinction. For instance, the UnitedStates government, alongside 115 other countries, has banned theimport or export of the species, its eggs or products (Heppell et al.2002). More specifically, these countries have banned illegal tamingof the species, which has been practiced by some private people andorganizations for entertainment purposes. According toChacon-Chaverri and Eckert (2009), there have been efforts to protectthe leatherback sea turtle by focusing on nesting the beaches. Inmost countries, beaches where nesting of the species occurs have beenpreserved as national heritage sites, which are kept off reach byprivate citizens. In Malaysian, where there has been the highesthunting of the leatherback sea turtles’ eggs, the government hasremarkably preserved them by preserving some sites.

There are a number of international treaties and agreements that havebeen established to help preserve and protect the species. One suchagreement is Convention of International Endangered Species, whichprohibits international trade in endangered wild fauna and flora(Crowder 2000). The second one is Convention on Migratory Species,which protects the endangered species under a number of memoranda ofunderstanding. The United States has the Inter-American Conventionfor the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, which is the onlyinternationally agreed treaty dedicated to the preservation of marineturtles.

Gilman et al. (2006) says that another major effort in curbingoverfishing of the leatherback sea turtles is controlling the anglersin the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. The measures that have beenput in place include gear modification to avoid catching the species,changing the fishing practices by implementing off limit fishingregions and enacting time or area closures. There have been effortsby environmental biologists with the fishing industry to developTurtle Excluder Devices (TED) (Watson et al, 2005). These effortshave been designed to help reduce the mortality of the sea turtlesthat are incidentally caught alongside other fish during the huntingexercises. The devices are designed to be large enough to allow eventhe largest turtle to escape when they are caught. Another biologicaleffort that has been put in place is prohibiting the importation ofshrimp harvested in a way that negatively affects the sea turtles(Epperly, 2003). This ban does not only apply to nations, which haveturtle preservation laws, or to nations where incidental shrimpcapture does not present a significant threat to the turtle numbers.


Extinction of any animal or plant species is a serious matter thathas to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. This paper hasconducted a literature review of the endangerment status of theleatherback sea turtle. It has been established that the decliningnumber of the species mean that they are in danger of getting wipedout of the face of the earth. The leading causes of the extinctionthreat are overfishing, irresponsible exploitation and globalwarming. Overfishing and irresponsible exploitation are human factorswhich can be adequately controlled. This is possible by enactingrules and regulations to preserve their numbers, an internationalcollaboration by treaties and agreements, and biologicalinterventions such as beach preservation. However, global warmingpresents a challenge that has not been adequately addressed. In thelong run, preserving the species is all up to the human effort anddedication towards ecological wellbeing.

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