There are seven species of sea turtles. Each turtle fills a unique ecological niche.
Sea turtles swam the oceans when dinosaurs roamed the earth 110 million years ago. Early explorers marveled at the abundance of sea turtles. They fished turtles heavily for their meat, which sustained sailors during ocean voyages. With the spread of human development around the globe, sea turtle numbers have dropped to 0.1 percent of their historical abundance. Now these ancient reptiles confront new threats, like pollution, industrial fishing, climate change, and large-scale coastal development.
Sea turtles help to sustain the health, productivity and biodiversity of marine ecosystems.
Scientists describe sea turtles as keystone species in recognition of the roles they play to support ecosystem function and balance. Leatherbacks keep jellyfish populations in check and hawskbills prevent sponges from outcompeting corals.
As the largest, deepest-diving and farthest ranging sea turtles, leatherbacks are a flagship species for the other six species of sea turtles.
Like other sea turtles, leatherbacks are negatively impacted by unsustainable beachfront development at nesting sites and destructive fishing practices. Charismatic leatherbacks also raise awareness for animals facing similar threats like albatross, which also die from ingesting plastic or entanglement in longlines.