The largest sea turtle in the world, leatherbacks can grow to more than 6 feet in length, but they are also one of the most threatened turtle species, researchers said.
The new study identifying high-use areas in the Pacific could help inform decisions about fishing practices to help reduce the threat to the species, they said.
"The study shows that leatherbacks can be found throughout the Pacific Ocean and identifies high-use areas that are of particular importance to their survival," said lead author Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
"This information on their movements is essential for identifying hot spots and assessing where limiting fishing at particular times of year may be effective for protecting leatherbacks."
Leatherbacks, the widest-ranging marine turtle species known to migrate across entire ocean basins, are at risk of passing through high-use fishing areas on these long journeys and becoming entangled in fishing gear, researchers said.
"Leatherback turtles are long-lived animals that take a long time to reach maturity, so when they are killed in fishing gear it has a huge impact on the population," study coordinator James Spotila of Drexel University said. "Their numbers are declining so rapidly it is critical that measures are taken quickly to ensure these animals don't go extinct."