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Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Headed To Extinction, Report Warns

Above: Pacific Leatherback hatchlings emerge from the sand.

The Pacific leatherback turtle could become extinct within 20 years if its population continues to plummet, scientists warn in a study published in Ecological Society of America's scientific journal Ecosphere.

Aired 3/4/13 on KPBS News.

The Pacific Leatherback turtle faces extinction in 20 years if conservation efforts aren’t expanded. Scientists say the species survived the extinction of dinosaurs but is struggling to survive the impact of humans.

Leatherback Turtle
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Above: Leatherback Turtle

An estimated 500 Pacific leatherbacks are nesting at their last large nesting refuge in Indonesia, according to the study, and overall numbers have dropped by 78 percent over the last few decades.

"It’s a species that has been on the planet for 70 million years and the populations in the Pacific are in peril," said Scott Benson, a marine scientist with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. He electronically tracked the species in 2011 from nesting beaches in Indonesia to California, where the turtle feeds on jellyfish.

Benson said fewer eggs are hatching because of increased beach temperatures, and many are dying in fishing nets.

"Also at the nesting beaches, there has been a suppression of reproductive output at the beaches due to high levels of deprivation of eggs by pigs and dogs," said Scott Benson.

Benson said there is hope of restoring the population.

"Atlantic populations were also thought to be declining at one point but appear now to be stable and increasing so it appears the conservation efforts in the Atlantic are bearing fruit," said Benson. "And we want to look at that as an example and apply those effective measures in the Pacific."

The Pacific Leatherback passes through California waters during its 6,000 mile annual migration, where the reptile is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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