Dermochelys – Leatherback sea turtle

The largest of all living turtles and the heaviest non-crocodilian reptile, reaching lengths of up to 2 meters (6.5 ft)

Unlike other sea turtles, leatherbacks lack scales and possess claws, while their shell is covered in thick, leathery skin instead of hard plates. This distinguishing feature, resembling hard rubber, allows its shell to contract during deep dives, preventing it from breaking under pressure.

Despite their remarkable adaptations, leatherback turtles face numerous threats, primarily due to human activities. One significant challenge is the high mortality rate among young turtles, with estimates suggesting that only one in a thousand leatherback hatchlings survive to reach adulthood. Human-induced factors such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change exacerbate this threat, further jeopardizing the survival of leatherback populations.

The construction of coastal developments near nesting beaches poses a significant risk to leatherback hatchlings. The artificial lights from these structures can disorient hatchlings, causing them to move away from the sea and toward the illuminated areas. This phenomenon, known as light pollution, can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, and increased vulnerability to predators, significantly reducing the chances of survival for leatherback hatchlings.

Additionally, leatherback turtles face the threat of ingestion of marine debris, particularly plastic pollution. Floating plastic debris, often mistaken for their primary food source, jellyfish, poses a significant danger to leatherbacks. Ingesting plastic can cause internal injuries, blockages in the digestive system, and even death, further contributing to population declines.

Conservation efforts to mitigate these threats are crucial for the survival of leatherback turtles. Initiatives focused on reducing light pollution through proper beachfront lighting practices, implementing coastal development regulations, and promoting responsible waste management are essential for protecting leatherback nesting habitats and hatchling survival.