The Importance of Champion Turtles

One of the things we do at the Leatherback Trust is track the sea turtles that come to Playa Grande to nest. About 55-60 days after the female lays eggs, hatchling turtles emerge from their nests, head to the sea and follow ocean currents to pelagic nursery habitats, where they search for food and seek refuge from predators. Once they leave the nest and head to the open ocean, they're hard to find and study.

Understanding sea turtle behavior in the ocean can help us protect them better. We track sea turtles to learn more about the threats they face from fisheries, pollution, and climate change.This knowledge helps us create stronger conservation strategies. Although leatherback turtles nest in the tropics, they often search for food (also called foraging) in cold waters far from the equator, such as those of Chile, California, Canada, northern Europe, southern Africa and New Zealand. These areas are most abundant in jellyfish, the primary food source for leatherback turtles.

Every once in while a champion turtle fights against all the odds to survive and continue the turtle cycle of life. The map shows the tracks of one such turtle who managed to find enough resources at sea (and that's a lot of jellyfish) to reproduce and return to Playa Grande for multiple seasons! Over the course of our research she's made 7 trips to nest on our beaches. She has also managed to successfully avoid interactions with fisheries and other threats at sea. She's a true survivor!

Shillinger et al., PLOS Biol 2008

The tracks of a champion turtle. Leatherbacks travel thousands of miles from nesting beaches at Las Baulas National Park in Costa Rica down to the rich, cold waters off the South American coast in search of jellyfish.

Champion turtles are crucial to the survival of the leatherback sea turtle species. And they need our help!

Three things you can do to protect turtles at sea:

  1. Only eat sustainably caught seafood, encouraging more fisheries to adopt safer practices.
  2. Stay away from disposable plastics - and recycle any plastics you use - so they don't end up in the ocean.
  3. Talk to your friends and representatives in government about the importance of protecting sea turtles. Get them on board too!