SIMoN
  Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Monitoring Project

Sea Turtle Restoration Project: Leatherback Watch Program

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Chris Pincetich
    Turtle Island Restoration Network
  • Ming Ong
    Turtle Island Restoration Network
Start Date: August 01, 2010

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project Leatherback Watch Program aims to monitor and record sightings of leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. The goal of the project is to work collaboratively to record and communicate sightings of leatherback sea turtles off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The objective is to obtain information from each sighting that includes the date, time, name of observer, exact GPS coordinates, a photograph or video as evidence of the sighting, and weather details.

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species that are drastically declining in numbers. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project Leatherback Watch Program uses the information obtained for education, research, and conservation purposes. More information is available at the web link listed below.

On the brink of extinction, leatherback sea turtles travel approximately 6,000 miles from nesting beaches in and around Indonesia to feed on abundant jellyfish off our coast. This is the longest marine reptile migration of earth. The foraging habitat off the West Coast of North America is essential to the West Pacific population of leatherbacks. The opportunistic sightings of leatherback sea turtles compiled by the Leatherback Watch Program augments the data collected by state and federal biologists.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project Leatherback Watch Program uses the mapped sightings of endangered leatherback sea turtles for education, research, and conservation purposes. More information is available at the link below.

Summary to Date

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project Leatherback Watch Program compiled 23 sightings in 2011 through outreach to approximately 150 program participants that receive our monthly emails and updates. The number of program participants is greater than 120 vessel contacts and over 275 participants stay informed through the Facebook page, which can be found on the web link listed below.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project leads diverse campaigns, like the Leatherback Watch Program, to educate the public about endangered sea turtles and engage them in citizen-science linked to conservation actions. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is is part of the 501(c)3 non-profit Turtle Island Restoration Network of groups working to protect marine biodiversity and healthy ocean habitats.

Monitoring Trends

  • Sighting frequency increased with increased program contacts.
  • Sightings peaked in August of 2011.

Discussion

The Leatherback Watch Program observations represent a significant contribution to the limited information currently available describing the habitat use and behavior of the critically endangered Western Pacific population of leatherback sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project's outreach and education programs have found many California residents are not aware leatherbacks exist offshore and are regular visitors to the critical feeding habitat within National Marine Sanctuaries along the U.S. West Coast. The photos and videos obtained from leatherback sightings are invaluable components of the growing public awareness of this amazing sea turtle. The scientific information gained will be used by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to develop policies for increasing protections for these endangered sea turtles to prevent their population from being pushed to extinction.

Study Parameters

  • opportunistic sightings
  • Maps
  • Stock assessment
  • Distribution
  • Habitat
  • Behavior
  • Range/Biogeography

Study Methods

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project Leatherback Watch Program methods consist of regular communications with a network of marine researchers, offshore charter vessels, and sailing clubs to compile and record opportunistic sightings of the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

Sighting data includes date, time, observer, observer vessel, weather, leatherback behavior, notes on habitat quality, and observers are instructed to provide photo or video verification of sightings.

Figures and Images

Figure 1. Leatherback turtle swimming near Moss Landing, CA on August 28, 2011. Photo courtesy of Kate Cummings and Blue Ocean Whale Watch.


Figure 2. Leatherback turtle surfacing for air while swimming near Moss Landing, CA on August 28, 2011. Photo courtesy of Kate Cummings and Blue Ocean Whale Watch.


Figure 3. Head of a leatherback turtle swimming near Moss Landing, CA on August 17, 2011. This photo angle shows the unique pattern of lighter skin color on top of the head over the pineal gland, which is being used by some researchers to identify individual sea turtles. Photo courtesy of Kate Cummings and Blue Ocean Whale Watch.


Figure 4. Leatherback turtle swimming in Monterey Bay, CA on October 19, 2010. Photo courtesy of Mark Cotter.


Figure 5. Close-up of a leatherback turtle swimming in Monterey Bay, CA on October 19, 2010. Photo courtesy of Mark Cotter.


Figure 6. Dr. Chris Pincetich (left) and David McGuire (right). Chris is a Campaigner and Marine Biologist for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. David is the Director and Founder of SeaStewards.org.


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