Leatherback Sea Turtle Summit

Our Team was up in Monterey, California this week to celebrate the incredible ocean ambassador, the Leatherback Sea Turtle. This year marks the inaugural Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day, and the first Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Summit, which took place along the incredibly beautiful shoreline of Monterey. The Leatherback was declared California’s State Marine Reptile last year, by the joint effort of Assemblymen Paul Fong and Mark Stone (Districts 28 and 29). This summit brought together representatives of Indonesia’s Tambrauw, West Papua government and California’s Leatherback scientists, conservation groups and officials. The summit was a labor of love by Oceana California Program Director, Geoff Shester, who arranged the meeting to promote future collaboration for protection of the Leatherback.

Barbara MacGillivray speaks at the Leatherback Summit with Geoff Shester

Over a dozen Indonesian dignitaries were at the summit including the Bupati Regent of Tambrauw, representing the crucial nesting grounds of Papua where these iconic creatures go each year to lay their eggs. The Leatherback travels over 6,000 miles from their foraging grounds in Northern California, to Indonesia, every two years. Because of this incredible journey, the two countries of Indonesia and the US joined in an effort to try to protect them. Members from various organizations such as WWF Indonesia, Oceana, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our own One World One Ocean were on site to listen and discuss the Leatherback and why it is so important to save this endangered species. In order to manage this Pacific Leatherback, in protecting the population effectively, collaboration between Indonesia and California is key to the species at both their nesting sites and foraging grounds. Breakout sessions were held, designating key areas where conservation efforts were most needed including: shared outreach and education, funding and resource sharing, rapid assessment of fisheries threats, and California/Indonesia Government collaboration.

The meeting ended with the signing of the Declaration, and the signing of a draft of a Memorandum of Agreement Pursuant to the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and Endangered Species Act between the Tambrauw Government of Indonesia and US Department of Commerce and California Natural Resources Agency.


A baby Leatherback, as seen in our IMAX film, Journey to the South Pacific

The energy at the Summit was high and had enthusiastic support, despite the need for translators to communicate, the importance of the Leatherback’s conservation was expressed widely. The delight and pride in this charismatic and highly endangered species was readily apparent, almost making words superfluous. The final day ended with a boat trip out to see the foraging grounds of the turtles, and while no turtle was spotted, we did see an abundance of their food – the nettle jelly. These 8-foot long jellies were everywhere, dramatically pointing out the need for the Leatherbacks to keep them in check. We also saw plenty of beautiful humpback whales, surrounded by thousands of sea lions, all searching for food.

The Leatherbacks are huge sea turtles, the largest of all sea turtles species, weighing up to 1,500 pounds and spanning 8 feet in length. They are “living dinosaurs,” surviving 100 million years - unchanged. You can see one of these amazing creatures on the giant IMAX screen in November, with the release of our film, “Journey to the South Pacific.”

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