Ancient Animals

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.

Historical engravings of leatherbacks leave something to be desired as to the accuracy of the representation. However, they teach us that humans have been observing leatherbacks for hundreds of years.

FCIT | Private collection of Roy Winkelman

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.

Scientists say a leatherbacks detects seasonal changes through a "third eye" on the top of its head.

© Jason Bradley |

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.

Leatherbacks can hold their breath for up to 85 minutes, but fishermen set longlines for 10+ hours.

© Doug Perrine |