Seeing beauty when we paddle: Protecting Leatherback Turtles

On Saturday, two of my friends paddled passed a what they estimated to be a 600 lb leatherback turtle just outside the surf off the beaches of Wrightsville Beach. NC. Sea turtles fascinate and delight me. I’ve seen these gentle giants over the years, but they are so rare, so beautiful and peaceful.

Leatherbacks can weight between 600 and 1500 pounds, live in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and feed on jellyfish. Without turtles like the Leatherback to keep jellyfish in check, it’ll be a gelatinous summer.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “Although their (Leatherback Turtle’s) distribution is wide, numbers of leatherback turtles have seriously declined during the last century as a result of intense egg collection and fisheries bycatch. Globally, leatherback status according to IUCN is listed as Vulnerable, but many subpopulations (such as in the Pacific and Southwest Atlantic) are Critically Endangered.”

What threatens them: “Atlantic leatherbacks, with their long migrations across the ocean, put them at great risk of running into longline fisheries. Leatherbacks feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, making them susceptible to mistakenly swallowing plastic bags floating in the ocean, which can kill them.”

Populations are threatened by habitat destruction, illegal egg collection, as fisheries bycatch (accidentally caught and killed in shrimp trawl nets, on longline hooks and in fishing gillnets), and by mistakenly eating plastic bags that look like jellyfish.

Here is a great resource for Leatherback Turtle information from the WWF

If you are interested, you can help the WWF by adopting a turtle here. The Distressed Mullet just adopted a turtle this am.

We’ve also done some work with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center … in Topsail Island, NC. They are AMAZING. I rescued a loggerhead on my paddleboard a few years back who had been caught in a gill net and then was thrown back in the water, half dead. She was 70 pounds and was tough to get up on my board. Paddling to the Coast Guard Station was interesting. The hospital sent a truck right away and did everything they could for her. She didn’t make it. Her name was Rain, which is what I usually name my board and the start of the turtle images of the Carolina Cup.

I’ve posted that same quote, “never turn your back on the ocean” numerous times on the Mullet. This is one of those moments. If you are compelled, help out. At very least, be aware of these magnificent beings and what’s going on.

I hope you all see something extraordinary on your next paddle. Now watch some videos and go get wet. And if you see a plastic bag or bottle on your paddle, pick it up.

500-Pound Leatherback Sea Turtle Released After Rehab from The Post and Courier on Vimeo.

Leatherback Turtle Nests Grande Riviere, Trinidad from Ronald Tiah on Vimeo.

South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program: Leatherback Sea Turtle Weight Check March 2015 from The Post and Courier on Vimeo.

Turtles – “Something you won’t forget” from Green Renaissance on Vimeo.

The Leatherback Trust: Protecting the World’s Largest Sea Turtles from GLP Films on Vimeo.

RISE ABOVE PLASTICS P.S.A. & from Ray Hollowell on Vimeo.

SEA SHEPHERD – TURTLE from Mauricio Oliveira on Vimeo.

Plastic Turtle from Wallace J. Nichols on Vimeo.

Plastic Bag vs. the Jellyfish… Who will win? from katelyn cucinotta on Vimeo.