Decline in leatherback turtles reported

Feb. 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The last remaining strongholds for leatherback sea turtles -- a few beaches in Indonesia -- are seeing declining numbers of the creatures, conservationists say.

Researchers from Indonesia and the United States have released a report documenting the ongoing decline of leatherback sea turtle nesting in the western Pacific Ocean.

"At least 75 percent of all leatherback turtles in the western Pacific Ocean hatch from eggs laid on a few beaches in an area known as Bird's Head Peninsula in Papua Barat-Indonesia," Peter Dutton of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center said.

"Our analysis indicates the number of leatherback turtle nests on this beach has declined 78 percent over the last 27 years," Dutton, a co-author of the research paper, said.

Extensive harvesting of eggs, predation of nests by feral pigs and other predators and the accidental capture in commercial fisheries are the primary factors involved in the decline of the largest of all marine turtles, the researchers said.

Leatherbacks are the largest living reptile in the world, weighing up to 2,000 pounds and growing to more than six feet in length.

"The turtles nesting at Papua Barat, Papua New Guinea, and other islands in our region depend on food resources in waters managed by many other nations for their survival," Ricardo Tapilatu of the State University of Papua Indonesia said. "It is important to protect leatherbacks in these foraging areas so that our nesting beach conservation efforts can be effective."

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