Leatherback sea turtle and its sensitivity to marine pollution

Very sensitive to marine pollution, it is also in danger due to the ingestion of floating plastic bags which it mistakes for jellyfish and due to the disturbance of the nesting sites

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Leatherback sea turtle and its sensitivity to marine pollution

Leatherback sea turtle lives in warm and temperate seas. It lives in the high seas, it approaches the coasts to reproduce and hunt. At birth it is 5.5 cm long, but as adults they can reach up to 250 cm in length and weigh around 400 kg.

The largest specimen found so far had a carapace curve 256.5 cm long and a weight of 1000 kg . The carapace is formed by small bony plates arranged in a mosaic, covered by a leathery and smooth skin, thick but flexible, a trait which in English has earned it the common name of leatherback turtle.

The carapace is crossed by 7 longitudinal ridges, while the plastron is furrowed by 5 fairings. Blackish or dark brown color with light spots. Small W-shaped horny beak. In the male the plastron is concave and the tail reaches and sometimes exceeds the length of the rear flippers, in the female the plastron is instead convex and the tail is shorter than the limbs.

Leatherback sea turtle and its sensitivity to marine pollution

The species, according to the criteria of the IUCN Red List, was considered critically endangered. Its capture is also prohibited in countries that allow fishing for other turtles.

Very sensitive to marine pollution, it is also in danger due to the ingestion of floating plastic bags which it mistakes for jellyfish and due to the disturbance of the nesting sites. In 2013, following new population controls, the IUCN lowered the risk of extinction from critically endangered to vulnerable.

Currently the estimated population is equal to about 54,000 specimens and it is estimated that in 2040 the population could rise to over 180,000 specimens. Deposit, exclusively late at night, in early summer, between 50 and 150 eggs each time.

The eggs are almost spherical, with a soft shell, and are laid in holes even more than a meter deep. It reproduces every 2-3 years. After 50-70 days, the young are born, 5-6 cm long and weighing an average of 3.5 g. The mortality of young people is very high: out of a thousand born, at the end of the first year of life, just 1 or 2 survive.

It feeds on large jellyfish and occasionally on fish, crustaceans and echinoderms. At birth it is 5.5 cm long, but as adults they can reach up to 250 cm in length and weigh around 400 kg. The largest specimen found so far had a curve of the carapace 256.5 cm long and a weight of 1000 K.