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Pacific Leatherback Activities

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1 Pacific Leatherback Activities
This is the front page of Zander's "Turtle Talks" book used here with author's permission.

2 About these Activities
Developed by Dr. Simona Bartl Director, Teaching Enhancement Program at Moss Landing Marine Labs Education Seat, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council With assistance from Scott Benson, Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program, NOAA Fisheries Service Deasy Lontoh, Graduate Student, Moss Landing Marine Labs Rachel Kippen, Program Director, Saves Our Shores, Santa Cruz Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Manager, and Malcolm Johnson, Summer Fellow, Oceana, Monterey Based on activities by and with permission from: Zander Srodes -

3 The Pacific leatherback sea turtle has been swimming the world’s oceans for over 70 million years. They are the largest of six sea turtle species that use U.S. ocean waters. Like their name, leatherbacks have a soft, leathery shell. These amazing sea turtles are capable of diving in cold, deep water. Female Pacific leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of western Pacific island nations, including Papua Barat, Indonesia and when some of the hatchings become adults, they swim all the way to waters off California to feed on their favorite snack…sea nettle jellies. Turtle truth: Scientists don’t know the lifespan of leatherbacks, although some of the hard shelled species are known to be long-lived.


5 Leatherback life cycle
Several months prior to the nesting season, female turtles migrate to tropical warm sandy beaches. The females come ashore at night within a few weeks of mating. Once a good location is found, the female turtle begins to carefully dig a hole with her rear flippers. She deposits soft-shelled eggs inside before refilling the hole with sand to cover the eggs and hide them from predators. Then she returns to the sea and will be far away when her babies hatch. After days in the warm sand, hatchlings begin to emerge from the eggs and crawl out of the nest. They move toward the sea and into the water during the night to avoid hungry crabs and birds. Once in the water, the hatchlings swim directly away from the beach for several days. After this “swimming frenzy,” the little turtles are transported by strong ocean currents to various areas of the open ocean. The lucky ones find food and grow quickly. They remain in warmer waters until they are large enough to stay warm. Then they head into cooler waters that contain more food. After years, the turtles become very large adults weighing over 1000 pounds. The adult turtles eventually migrate back to the warmer waters near nesting beaches, and the females return to the same beach from which they emerged as hatchlings long ago to lay eggs and create new hatchlings.


7 Threats to Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles
Pacific leatherback sea turtles play an important role in maintaining a healthy marine food web. They are the top jelly predator. As their population declines, so does their ability to perform vital roles in maintaining healthy oceans. Some commercial fishing nets, pollution, and climate change are among the greatest threats to Pacific leatherbacks. Drift gill nets are non-selective and catch leatherbacks, preventing safe passage from nesting beaches to foraging grounds. Leatherbacks easily mistake plastic bags swirling in the water for jellies and once swallowed the turtles can starve or suffocate. Climate change is expected to worsen the stresses that sea turtles already face by affecting nesting beaches and migration routes. Draw a bag in this circle How long does a person use a plastic grocery bag on average? ____________ How long does it take a plastic bag to degrade once it is in the ocean? ____________ How much plastic waste ends up in the world's oceans every day? ___________ Does most of the plastic that enters the ocean come from land or from boats? __________ Plastic bags: used for an average of 20 minutes; take years to degrade depending on the type of plastic and where the bags end up 12,000 tons = to the weight of 6,000 cars Over 80% of plastics in the sea are from land based sources Draw a jelly in this circle

8 Reduce your use of all single use plastic like plastic shopping bags.
Know what is happening to Pacific leatherback sea turtles and share that with your friends and family. Reduce your use of all single use plastic like plastic shopping bags. Pick up trash at the beach so it doesn't get into the ocean. Eat sustainable seafood that is caught in ways that don't harm turtles (lists available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute). Use less energy and carpool to reduce your contribution to climate change. Learn more about the many groups of people that are working to protect sea turtles and help support their efforts. Great solutions are found on the Katy Pye site (

9 Size comparison Draw a standing adult human here:
Draw the number of adult humans that would weigh the same here: Average adult turtle DONE. The turtle is average at 6 ft long and 1,000 lbs. US average height for adults (20+) is 5 ft 9 1⁄2 in for males and 5 ft 4 in females (measured 2003–2006). Indonesian average for adults (50+) is 1.580 m (5 ft 2 in) for males and 1.470 m (4 ft 10 in) for females (self-reported 1997). US average weight for adults (20+) is 194.7 lb for males and 164.7 lb for females (measured ). The overall average adult weight in Indonesia is kg ( lb). Answer: US size = same or slightly smaller & weight = people; Indonesia: height = 80% & weight = people

10 ESTER: Sep 07 - Jun 08 MARIAM: Sep 07 - Jul 08
3* 1* 2* 4* 5* *2 6* ESTER: Sep 07 - Jun 08 MARIAM: Sep 07 - Jul 08 7* 8* 9* 10* 11* Tracking data for 2 turtles that were tagged in Monterey Bay in September Each numbered dot is the location after one month of travel. Mariam left Monterey in September and nested in West Papua, Indonesia, after 11 months of travel. Ester left Monterey in September and nested in the Solomon Islands after 10 months of travel. Students can connect the dots and use arrows to show direction traveled. More advanced students can calculate distance traveled and speed of travel and can also do activities in the "Mapping Turtle Travel" packet.

11 Leatherback Survival Game
The teacher hands out items lettered A-Z to each student or student pair to create a ‘nest’ of 7-10 'eggs' each representing 10 eggs. Items can be pieces of paper or round stickers or ping pong balls. Several A-Z sets will be needed. As the teacher reads the narrative in the notes, students will hand back or cross off eggs as a letter is called. The eggs left at the end represent the surviving turtles that will produce the next generation! The game can continue with the teacher moving on to the ‘solutions’ narrative to give back some of the lost turtle eggs and show what aspects of turtle survival are within human control. To the right is a drawing of the green turtle life cycle. Students can submit drawings of this lifecycle with leatherbacks instead and one drawing will be used when this packet goes to Indonesian classrooms. Survival Game Narrative: You are a mature, female Pacific leatherback. It has taken you twenty years to find your mate and now you are ready to lay your eggs in a nest.  You crawl up on the sand and find a suitable location based on the light of the night sky and use your prehistoric flippers to dig a deep hole a few feet deep, a few feet wide.  You lay around 100 ping-pong ball-shaped, white eggs and cover them with sand.  You then use the light of the night sky to crawl back in the sea, leaving your children to fend for themselves. If you have an egg with a(n) A. You were not successfully fertilized by a male and therefore will not hatch. B. You are crushed by a boat that was pulled up onto the sand.   C. You are in a nest that was flooded by unusually high tides.   D. You are eaten by a dog or a pig or another introduced predator.   E. You are collected by humans to eat as food. Congratulations! If you still have eggs in your nest, they have hatched and the baby sea turtles are crawling out of the sand using the light of the full moon to get to the sea. If you have an egg with a F. You crawl out of your nest before dark and the sun makes you too hot.   G. You follow artificial light and crawl the wrong way.   H. A dog eats you.   I. A crab eats you (yes, you are that small).   J. You crawl into beach litter and get entangled.   Congratulations, you now have made it into the Pacific Ocean!  You swim for years eating algae, small fish and sea jellies as you grow big. If you have an egg with a K. A shark eats you, one of your few natural predators in the open ocean.   L. You are caught in abandoned fish netting and cannot come up for air.   M. You cannot escape a net because it does not have a Turtle Excluder Device and you become bycatch.   N. You are caught by humans for food.   O. You are caught for your leathery skin and get turned into a purse.   Congratulations! You are now ready to travel to the Monterey Bay to feast on jellies! P. You are hit by a tourist boat and fatally injured. Q. You mistake a plastic bag for a jelly and choke on it. R. You get sick, which makes you sluggish and not able to get enough food. S. A great white shark eats you. T. Changing weather patterns bring fewer jellies and you do not get enough to eat. Congratulations! You have eaten enough to make it back to Indonesia, find a turtle of the opposite sex and produce the next generation of turtles. If you have an egg with a U. The numbers of leatherbacks have decreased so much that you cannot find a mate. V. Your beach is developed and is not suitable for nests.   W. Your beach has a jetty and now you or your partner cannot find it.   Congratulations!  If you still have any eggs you are one of 3 in 26 leatherbacks (in real life it is more like 1 in 1000) that survive from egg to mature turtle. All of the seven species of sea turtles in the US are listed as endangered. Leatherbacks are considered critically endangered. Solutions Narrative: Leatherback sea turtles have both natural and introduced obstacles to their survival. As we look back at this list, what problems are natural and what problems are due to humans? Do you have any ideas about how we can help leatherbacks survive to full grown adults? Example solutions: B. Nests are marked so that boats pulled onto the beach can avoid them. J. A beach cleanup on the nesting beach makes a clear path for hatchlings. M. International laws are created that require all fishing boats to use Turtle Excluder Devices. Q. Plastic bags are banned throughout the state of California!

12 Success story: Atlantic green sea turtles were listed as endangered in They were threatened by egg collection, hunting, vandalism, disturbance while nesting, beach development, habitat loss, and sea level rise. Their critical habitat was defined in A recovery plan was made and followed in 1999. Between 1989 and 2011, their population in Florida grew by 2,206% and they have now achieved their population size recovery goal. Reference:

13 Success story: Atlantic leatherback sea turtle
They declined due to habitat destruction, commercial fishery bycatch, harvest of eggs, hunting of adults, and loss of beach nesting habitat. They are still affected by these threats, and in some places by offshore oil drilling. Globally, leatherback sea turtles have been declining for decades. U.S. populations, however, have increased since being listed as endangered in Between 1989 and 2011, nests at important Florida beaches increased from 27 to 615. Color me!

14 Other Resources

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