Action Plan for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canada (Pacific population)

Table of contents

List of tables

  • Table 1. Measures to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Table 2. Measures to be undertaken collaboratively between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners
  • Table 3. Measures that represent opportunities for other jurisdictions, organizations or individuals to lead

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Proposed

2017

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Description

The Action Plan for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canada was prepared by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and should be considered as one of a linked series of recovery documents for this population.

Recommended citation:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2017. Action Plan for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. iv + 23 pp.

For copies of the Action Plan, or for additional information on species at risk, including Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Status Reports, residence descriptions, recovery strategies, and other related recovery documents, please visit the SAR Public Registry.

Cover illustration: Scott Benson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Plan d'action pour la tortue luth (Dermochelys coriacea) au Canada (population du Pacifique) »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2017. All rights reserved.
ISBN ISBN to come
Catalogue no. Catalogue no. to come

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

Preface

The federal, provincial, and territorial government signatories under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996) agreed to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada. Under the Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA), the federal competent ministers are responsible for the preparation of action plans for species listed as extirpated, endangered, or threatened for which recovery has been deemed feasible. They are also required to report on progress five years after the publication of the final document on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers under SARA for the Leatherback Sea Turtle and have prepared this Action Plan to implement the Recovery Strategy, as per Section 47 of SARA. In preparing this Action Plan, the competent ministers have considered, as per Section 38 of SARA, the commitment of the Government of Canada to conserving biological diversity and to the principle that, if there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the listed species, cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for a lack of full scientific certainty. To the extent possible, this Action Plan has been prepared in cooperation with Environment Canada and the Province of British Columbia as per section 48(1) of SARA.

As stated in the preamble to SARA, success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions and actions set out in this Action Plan and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada agency or any other jurisdiction alone. The cost of conserving species at risk is shared amongst different constituencies. All Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this Action Plan for the benefit of Leatherback Sea Turtle and Canadian society as a whole.

Under SARA, an action plan provides the detailed recovery planning that supports the strategic direction set out in the recovery strategy for the species. The plan outlines recovery measures to be taken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada the Parks Canada Agency and other jurisdictions and/or organizations to help achieve the population and distribution objectives identified in the recovery strategy. Implementation of this action plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

Acknowledgements

This Action Plan was prepared by Sheila J. Thornton (DFO).  The development of the Action Plan was the result of collaborative efforts and contributions from many individuals and organizations.  The Leatherback Sea Turtle Action Plan Team (Appendix B) compiled the contributions from the Technical Workshop (November 3rd and 4th, 2011) and the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat assessment process on “Information relevant to the identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific waters” (Gregr et al. 2015).

Executive summary

The Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. This action plan is considered one in a series of documents that are linked and should be taken into consideration together, including the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) status report, the Recovery Strategy, and the Progress Report on the Recovery Strategy. This document is considered a partial action plan because current best available information is insufficient to identify critical habitat (DFO 2014). Identification of the habitat necessary to support survival and recovery of the species may be addressed in an amendment to the recovery strategy at a later date.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest of the seven extant species of marine turtles, and is the sole living member of the family Dermochelyidae. The Leatherback can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles, as it lacks a hard shell. The carapace is instead composed of a leathery, slightly flexible, fibrous tissue embedded with tiny bones (osteoderms). The carapace is teardrop shaped and has seven conspicuous longitudinal ridges. It is dark bluish-black, and the carapace, neck, head and front flippers are often covered with white, or bluish-white, blotches.

Leatherbacks are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, with a range extending from approximately 71ºN to approximately 47ºS.  The Pacific population of Leatherback Sea Turtles has experienced particularly precipitous declines over the last two decades, with recent estimates indicating that 90% of the breeding females have been lost from the population (COSEWIC 2012). Major worldwide threats include: fisheries bycatch, legal and illegal harvest of eggs and nesting females, vessel strikes, ecosystem alteration (beach erosion and accretion), pollution (light pollution, marine debris, oil pollution), construction and development affecting nesting beaches.

This Action Plan outlines measures that provide the best chance of achieving the population and distribution objectives for the species, including the measures to be taken to address the threats and monitor the recovery of the species. The population and distribution objectives for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (previously referred to as recovery goals and objectives) were utilized to form the following broad strategies for recovery:

  • Broad Strategy 1: Conduct and support research that makes possible the development of measurable recovery criteria, within five years, for leatherback turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
  • Broad Strategy 2: Identify and understand threats to the leatherback turtle and its habitat resulting from human activities in Canadian Pacific waters
  • Broad Strategy 3: Mitigate human-caused threats to leatherback turtles in Canadian Pacific waters and protect their critical migratory and foraging habitats
  • Broad Strategy 4: Support the efforts of other countries to promote the recovery of the leatherback turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
  • Broad Strategy 5: Raise awareness of Pacific Leatherbacks and engage Canadians in stewardship projects.

1. Recovery actions

1.1 Context and scope of the action plan

The Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. Leatherback Sea Turtles were originally considered as a single unit by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). COSEWIC re-examined the species’ status in May 2012 and, based on data indicating that the Atlantic and Pacific populations are discrete and evolutionarily significant, the population was split into two designatable units. Both populations retained the Endangered status.

This Action Plan is part of a series of documents regarding the Leatherback Sea Turtle, including the COSEWIC Status Report (PDF 1.21 MB) (COSEWIC 2012), and the Recovery Strategy (PDF 535 KB) (DFO PLTRT 2007) and the Progress Report (PDF 449.31 KB) on Recovery Strategy Implementation (DFO 2015) that should be taken into consideration together. Under SARA, an action plan provides the detailed recovery measures that support the strategic direction set out in a recovery strategy for the species. A recovery strategy also provides background information on the species and the threats to recovery.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest of the seven extant species of marine turtles, and is the sole living member of the family Dermochelyidae. The Leatherback has a shell covered by a leathery, slightly flexible, fibrous tissue embedded with tiny bones (osteoderms). The carapace is teardrop shaped and has seven conspicuous longitudinal ridges. It is dark bluish-black, and the carapace, neck, head and front flippers are often covered with white, or bluish-white, blotches. The plastron is pinkish-white. Adults have a distinct pink spot on the top of the head. Adult Leatherback Sea Turtles attain a straight line carapace length of over 2 m, and a mass of 900 kg.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, with a range extending from approximately 71ºN to approximately 47ºS. The species usually nests, at tropical latitudes, on Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific islands, and along the shores of every continent except Europe and Antarctica.

There are two nesting populations of Pacific Leatherbacks: one in the eastern Pacific, including beaches in Mexico and Costa Rica; and the other in the Western Pacific, utilizing beaches in the Solomon Islands, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Indonesia. Individuals found in Canadian Pacific waters are believed to originate from the Western Pacific nesting population; therefore, this action plan focuses on the Western Pacific nesting population.

The majority of the adult life of the Leatherback is spent in the marine environment. Foraging areas with high jellyfish biomass are critical for meeting the energy requirements of this endangered species.  The coastal Pacific waters frequented by this species provide such foraging opportunities and are not only important to the survival of the individual, but also provide vital support for the recovery of the nesting populations.

The Pacific population of Leatherback Sea Turtles has experienced particularly precipitous declines over the last two decades, with recent estimates indicating that 90% of the breeding females have been lost from the population (COSEWIC 2012). Major worldwide threats include: fisheries bycatch, legal and illegal harvest of eggs and nesting females, vessel strikes, ecosystem alteration (beach erosion and accretion), pollution (light pollution, marine debris, oil pollution), construction and development (beach armouring, beach sand placement, coastal construction, dredging, oil and gas activities). Climate change and resulting loss of suitable nesting habitat and illegal poaching of eggs and nesting females are serious threats.  Within Canadian Pacific waters, threats may exist from entanglement in both long-line and fixed-gear fisheries, marine debris, offshore oil and gas production.

The recovery strategy defined the Recovery Goal for this species as follows:

The goal of this Recovery Strategy is the long-term viability of the Leatherback Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters.

This Action Plan outlines the actions required to achieve the population and distribution objectives for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Pacific population), and should be considered along with the Recovery Strategy for Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Pacific Canadian Waters (DFO PLTRT 2007).  The Recovery Strategy provides the strategic direction and approaches for recovery of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Pacific population), background information on the species, and potential threats to the population and individuals. It also identifies the following objectives to guide the actions for recovery:

  • Objective 1:     Conduct and support research that makes possible the development of measurable recovery criteria, within five years, for Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters1
  • Objective 2:     Identify and understand threats to the Leatherback Sea Turtle and its habitat resulting from human activities in Canadian Pacific waters
  • Objective 3:    Mitigate human-caused threats to Leatherback Sea Turtles in Canadian Pacific waters and protect their critical migratory and foraging habitats
  • Objective 4:    Support the efforts of other countries to promote the recovery of the Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
  • Objective 5:    Raise awareness of Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles and engage Canadians in stewardship projects

The recovery measures and broad strategies presented in this Action Plan build upon and support these objectives.

Under Section 47 of SARA, the competent minister must prepare one or more action plans based on the recovery strategy. Therefore, action planning for species at risk recovery is an iterative process. The Implementation Schedule in this Action Plan may be modified in the future depending on progress towards recovery.

1.2 Measures to be taken and implementation schedule

Success in the recovery of this species is dependent on the actions of many different jurisdictions; it requires the commitment and cooperation of the constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions and measures set out in this Action Plan.

This Action Plan provides a description of the measures that provide the best chance of achieving the population and distribution objectives for the Leatherback Sea Turtle, including measures to be taken to address threats to the species and monitor its recovery, to guide not only activities to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency, but those for which other jurisdictions, organizations and individuals have a role to play. As new information becomes available, these measures and the priority of these measures may change. Fisheries and Oceans Canada strongly encourages all Canadians to participate in the conservation of the Leatherback Sea Turtle through undertaking measures outlined in this action plan. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognizes the important role of the recovery team for the Leatherback Sea Turtle and its member organizations and agencies in the implementation of measures for this species. 

Table 1 identifies the measures to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support the recovery of the Leatherback Sea Turtle. Table 2 identifies the measures to be undertaken collaboratively between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners, other agencies, organizations or individuals. Implementation of these measures will be dependent on a collaborative approach, in which Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a partner in recovery efforts, but cannot implement the measures alone. As all Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this Action Plan, Table 3 identifies the remaining measures that represent opportunities for other jurisdictions, organizations or individuals to lead for the recovery of the species. If your organization is interested in participating in one of these measures, please contact the Species at Risk [Pacific] office at sara@pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Implementation of this action plan is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

Description for table 1

Table 1 is titled “Measures to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada” and describes the four recovery actions that will be led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The table is read horizontally and consists of five columns. The header row of the table lists the column headings: Number, Recovery Measures, Priority, Threat or Objective addressed, Timeline. The table has a header row plus ten rows which describe each of the four main recovery measures in detail. Before each recovery measure row, a broad strategy title is defined and applies to rows under that section. Several broad strategies include approach subtitles to further categorize activities. Further explanation of the terms “Priority” and “Timeline” are offered in a footnote on page four.

Table 1. Measures to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada
#Recovery MeasuresPriority2Threats or Objective addressedTimeline3
Broad Strategy 2: Identify and understand threats to the leatherback turtle and its habitat resulting from human activities in Canadian Pacific waters
Approach 2: Implement programs to collect information on Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings in Canadian Pacific waters
1Support and encourage reporting of and response to Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings and strandings through the Marine Mammal Response Program (MMRP)HighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological research; accidental capture and entanglement; ingestion of debris; collisions with boatsOngoing
Broad Strategy 3: Mitigate human-caused threats to Leatherback Sea Turtles in Canadian Pacific waters
Approach 3: Develop and implement recovery procedures for strandings and/or entanglements and, as appropriate, other emergency planning and response procedures (e.g., spill response)
2Develop a protocol for disentanglement and a SARA permit/exception/exemption to allow fishers to legally disentangle Leatherback Sea TurtlesHighAccidental capture and entanglement3 years
Broad Strategy 5: Raise awareness of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Pacific population) and engage Canadians in stewardship projects that support Leatherback Sea Turtle recovery in Canada
Approach 1: Develop a public awareness campaign on the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Pacific population) that covers identification, ecology, threats, Canadian recovery efforts, and what individuals can do to minimize threats at home and abroad
3Ensure that Leatherback threat mitigation is incorporated into Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs) and Integrated Management of Aquaculture Plans (IMAPs) where appropriateHighAccidental capture and entanglement; collisions with boats; aquaculture5 years
4Develop information on turtle identification and reporting protocol for inclusion in the British Columbia Tidal Waters Sport Fishing GuideHighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements, Raise awareness5 years
Description for table 2

Table 2 is titled “Measures to be undertaken collaboratively between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners” and describes 35 recovery actions. The table is read horizontally and consists of five columns. The header row of the table lists the column headings: Number, Recovery Measures, Priority, Threat or Objective addressed, Timeline. The table has a header row plus 51 rows. Before each recovery measure row, a broad strategy title is defined and applies to rows under that section. Several broad strategies include approach sub-titles to further categorize activities. Further explanation of the term “Priority” is offered in a footnote on page six.

Table 2. Measures to be under taken collaboratively between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and its partners
#Recovery MeasuresPriority4Threats or Objective addressedTimeline (short, medium or long term)Partner(s)
Broad Strategy 1: Conduct and support research required to develop measurable recovery criteria, within five years, for Leatherback Sea Turtle populations that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
Approach 1: Conduct research in Canada to identify habitat important to the recovery of Leatherback Sea Turtles in Pacific waters
5Undertake semi-annual jellyfish surveys to identify temporal and spatial distribution of medusae in Canadian Pacific watersMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological researchOngoing; semiannualAcademia
Industry
6Model suitable habitat that would support Leatherback Sea Turtle foraging in Pacific watersMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological research, critical habitat2 yearsAcademia; other governments
7Use the data from jellyfish surveys to revise the model predicting suitable Leatherback Sea Turtle foraging habitatMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological research, critical habitat3 yearsAcademia
8Investigate means of evaluating the habitat model with Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings dataMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological research, critical habitat5 yearsAcademia
9Document the inter-annual variability of jellyfish abundance, biomass and distributionMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological research3 yearsAcademia; other governments
10Undertake analysis of jellyfish as a forage species through caloric and nutritional assessmentMediumKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological research5 yearsAcademia
Approach: 2: Contribute to and collaborate with projects on Leatherback Sea Turtles that are found in Canadian Pacific waters
11Enhance existing effort for Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings from on-water surveysMediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements: biological/ecological researchOngoing; annualOther agencies; academia; ENGOs
12Enhance existing effort for Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings from aerial surveysMediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchOngoing; annualOther agencies
Approach 3: Contribute to projects on demographic parameters for the Leatherback Sea Turtle in order to predict the effectiveness of recovery measures
13Contribute to Leatherback Sea Turtle monitoring and census efforts at the nesting beachesHighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchOngoing, biennialOther agencies; academia
Approach 4: Contribute to projects on the basic biology, physiology and behaviour of the Leatherback Sea Turtle
14Support direct attachment of satellite tags to confirm migratory routes and timing of arrival on and departure from foraging grounds within and outside Canadian waters.MediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchOpportunisticOther agencies; academia
Broad Strategy 2: Identify and understand threats to the leatherback turtle and its habitat resulting from human activities in Canadian Pacific waters
Approach: 1: Synthesize existing data on activities that potentially harm Leatherback Sea Turtles that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
15Identify the threats in the inter-nesting habitat of the Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle population (i.e., accidental entanglements and incidental catch)HighAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats; directed fishery on adults and juveniles5 yearsOther agencies; academia
16Identify fishing practices that may affect Leatherback Sea Turtles along the migratory route between nesting beaches and foraging areasHighDirected fishery on adults and juveniles; harvest of eggs; increased human presence on nesting beach5 yearsOther agencies; academia
17Assess fishing pressure and gear type in important foraging habitat areas throughout the range of Pacific Leatherback Sea TurtlesHighAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats5 yearsOther agencies; academia
Approach 2: Implement programs to collect information on Leatherback Sea Turtle sightings in Canadian Pacific waters
18Develop and distribute material to increase awareness of Leatherback Sea Turtles in Pacific waters and to encourage timely reporting of sightingsHighAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats; knowledge gaps – survey requirements3 yearsENGOs; academia
19Develop tissue collection protocol for Leatherback Sea Turtle strandingsHighAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats1 yearOther agencies; ENGOs
20Support necropsies and attendance at strandings to identify threats and life history of Leatherback Sea TurtlesHighKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological researchOngoingOther agencies; ENGOs
21Obtain Passive Integrated Tag scanners for Leatherback Sea Turtle strandingsMediumAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats2 yearsOther agencies
22Encourage communities to undertake regular patrols in areas identified as having a higher probability of strandingsMediumAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats5 years; ongoingENGOs
Broad Strategy 3: Mitigate human-caused threats to leatherback turtles in Canadian Pacific waters and protect their critical migratory and foraging habitats
Approach 1: Support mitigation measures to reduce identified threats to Leatherback Sea Turtles that use Canadian Pacific waters
23Consider Leatherback Sea Turtles and their prey in environmental assessments of projects and developments in Canadian Pacific watersHighAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boats5 yearsOther agencies; Stakeholders
24Develop educational material directed to stakeholders and fishers detailing the impact of derelict gear, ocean debris on Leatherback Sea Turtles, and mitigation measures for fishery interactions (e.g., circle hooks, dehookers, Turtle Excluder Devices)HighAccidental capture and entanglement; ingestion of debris; collisions with boats; fisheries on adults and juveniles; harvest of eggs3 yearsENGOs
Other agencies
25Work with international regulatory agencies to encourage implementation of mitigation measures in the industrial long line fishery to reduce impact on Leatherback Sea Turtles (e.g., gear modifications, circle hooks, de-hookers, disentanglement protocols)HighAccidental capture and entanglement; collisions with boats; fisheries on adults and juvenilesOngoingOther agencies
26Develop an educational package that outlines activities to protect and recover Leatherback Sea Turtles for use in schools in nesting beach communitiesHighIngestion of debris; contamination and pollution5 yearsENGOs
Approach 2: Develop and implement recovery procedures for strandings and/or entanglements, and, as appropriate, other emergency planning and response procedures (e.g., spill response)
27Identify the effects of contaminants and dispersants on Leatherback Sea TurtlesHighIngestion of debris; pollution and contamination2 yearsAcademia ENGOs
28Ensure Leatherback Sea Turtles and their prey are considered in existing and upcoming spill response plans, including effects of dispersantsHighIngestion of debris; pollution and contamination3 years; ongoingOther agencies
Broad Strategy 4: Support the efforts of other countries to promote the recovery of the Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
Approach: 1: Explore opportunities to participate in International efforts for the protection and recovery of the Leatherback Sea Turtle
29Assist local communities in protecting the nesting beaches from local threats, such as predation by dogs and feral pigs, development impacts, and habitat degradationHighHarvest of eggs; predation and parasitism; increased human presence on nesting beach; habitat lossOngoingENGOs
Other agencies
Academia
30Support actions to decrease threats to Leatherback Sea Turtles during migration and foraging (e.g., development and use of mitigation measures for incidental catch, entanglement)MediumAccidental capture and entanglement; ingestion of debris; pollution and contamination; knowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological research5 yearsENGOs
Other agencies
31Support protection programs to counter the illegal harvest and distribution of Leatherback Sea Turtles and their eggs (e.g., community stewardship initiatives, beach patrols, CITES)MediumHarvest of eggs; fisheries on adults and juveniles; increased human presence5 yearsOther agencies
ENGOs
Approach 2: Initiate agreements and collaborative projects with countries that share populations of Leatherback Sea Turtles that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
32Support government-led nesting beach protection efforts in Indonesia and other Leatherback Sea Turtle nesting locationsHighNesting environment – Harvest of eggs; nest predation and parasitism; increased human presence; contamination and pollution5 years; ongoingOther agencies
Academia
33Make use of existing bilateral and multilateral funding programs to support collaborative research, training, and awareness, including community participation in Leatherback recoveryHighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological research requirements5 yearsOther agencies
ENGOs
34Contribute to the Leatherback Sea Turtle satellite tagging effort in the Pacific NorthwestMediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological research requirements5 years; ongoingOther agencies
35Provide Canadian expertise and other support to protect nesting Leatherback Sea Turtles, their eggs, and nesting beaches (e.g., public education, law enforcement, monitoring of coastal construction, alteration/reduction of artificial lighting, measures to improve hatching success)MediumNesting environment – Harvest of eggs; nest predation and parasitism; increased human presence; contamination and pollutionOngoingOther agencies
Broad Strategy 5: Raise awareness of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Pacific population) and engage Canadians in stewardship projects that support Leatherback Sea Turtle recovery in Canada
Approach: 1: Develop a public awareness campaign on the Leatherback Sea Turtle that covers identification, ecology, threats, Canadian recovery efforts, and what individuals can do to minimize threats at home or abroad
36Continue to work with BC Cetaceans Sightings Network and expand outreach activities involving Leatherback Sea TurtlesHighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological research requirements1 yearENGOs
37Develop and distribute an education and awareness package for the general public for use in schools and at public events (e.g., dockside interpretive programming, boat shows)HighIngestion of debris; collision with boats; environmental contamination; knowledge gaps – survey requirements3 yearsENGOs
38Develop Leatherback Sea Turtle outreach content for use by agencies such as Parks Canada, BC Parks (marine) and others to reach boaters, fishers, fishing guides, and the public with information on actions to take in support of Leatherback Sea Turtle recoveryMediumIngestion of debris; collision with boats; environmental contamination; knowledge gaps – survey requirements3 yearsOther agencies
39Promote the jellyfish sightings network (jellywatch.org)  in Leatherback Sea Turtle information packagesMediumKnowledge gaps – biological/ecological researchOngoingAcademia
ENGOs
Description for table 3

Table 3 is titled “Measures that represent opportunities for other jurisdictions, organizations or individuals to lead” and describes seven recovery actions. The table is read horizontally and consists of five columns. The header row of the table lists the column headings: Number, Recovery Measures, Priority, Threat or Objective addressed, Timeline. The table has a header row plus 14 rows. Before each recovery measure row, a broad strategy title is defined and applies to rows under that section. Several broad strategies include approach sub-titles to further categorize activities. Further explanation of the term “Priority” is offered in a footnote on page thirteen.

Table 3. Measures that represent opportunities for other jurisdictions, organizations or individuals to lead
#Recovery MeasuresPriority5Threats or Objective addressedSuggested Other Jurisdictions or Organizations
Broad Strategy 1: Conduct and support research required to develop measurable recovery criteria, within five years, for Leatherback Sea Turtle populations that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
Approach 1: Conduct research in Canada to identify habitat important to the recovery of Leatherback Sea Turtles in Pacific waters
40Identify the locations of early life stages of prey species to better understand the population dynamics and distribution of jellyfishLowKnowledge gaps - Biological/ecological researchAcademia
Approach 2: Contribute to and collaborate in projects on Leatherback Sea Turtles that are found in Canadian Pacific waters
41Refine understanding of Western Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle hatchling dispersal, juvenile and adult distribution in order to identify site-specific threats throughout their rangeHighKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchAcademia
Other agencies
ENGOs
Approach 4: Contribute to projects on the basic biology, physiology and behaviour of the Leatherback Sea Turtle
42Undertake metabolic and foraging efficiency studies of the Pacific population of Leatherback Sea TurtlesMediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchAcademia
Other agencies
43Achieve a greater understanding of migration intervals to predict attendance of Leatherback Sea Turtles in Canadian Pacific waters (e.g., stable isotope studies, Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags, satellite tags)LowKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchAcademia
Other agencies
Broad Strategy 2: Identify and understand threats to the leatherback turtle and its habitat resulting from human activities in Canadian Pacific waters
Approach 1: Synthesize existing data on activities that potentially harm Leatherback Sea Turtles that frequent Canadian Pacific waters
44Identify threats related to the artisanal fishery near the nesting beaches and identify frequency and incidenceHighAccidental capture and entanglement; ingestion of debris; collisions with boats; fisheries on adults and juvenilesOther agencies
ENGOs
45Identify factors that could potentially affect jellyfish abundance in Canadian Pacific watersMediumKnowledge gaps – survey requirements; biological/ecological researchAcademia
Approach 2: Implement programs to collect information on Leatherback Turtle sightings in Canadian Pacific waters
46Utilize drift models in order to guide monitoring effort and recovery of Leatherback Sea Turtle carcassesLowAccidental capture or entanglement; ingestion of debris; collision with boatsAcademia
ENGOs

2. Critical habitat

2.1 Identification of the species’ critical habitat

2.1.1 General description of the species’ critical habitat

Critical habitat is defined in SARA as “…the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in a recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.” [s. 2(1)].

Also, SARA defines habitat for aquatic species as “… spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply, migration and any other areas on which aquatic species depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes, or areas where aquatic species formerly occurred and have the potential to be reintroduced.” [s. 2(1)].

The best available information on Canadian Pacific habitat is insufficient to support identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles at this time. The Advice relevant to the identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Pacific population) (PDF 284 KB) (DFO 2014) provides information on studies required to refine the critical habitat advice. Identification of the habitat necessary to support survival and recovery of the species may be addressed in an amendment to the recovery strategy at a later date.  Once critical habitat is identified, effective protections will be put in place to safeguard its features and functions. 

The Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific Waters for the Period 2007-2012 outlines measures that have been taken to address knowledge gaps, including those related to critical habitat identification.

3. Evaluation of socio-economic costs and of benefits

Section 49(1)(e) of SARA requires that an action plan include an evaluation of the socio-economic costs of the action plan and the benefits to be derived from its implementation (SARA 49(1)(e), 2003). This evaluation addresses only the incremental socio-economic costs of implementing this Action Plan from a national perspective as well as the social and environmental benefits that would occur if the Action Plan were implemented in its entirety, recognizing that organizations or agents other than the federal government may be better placed for implementation of certain aspects of the Action Plan.  The intent of this evaluation is to inform the public and to guide decision making on implementation of the Action Plan by partners.

The protection and recovery of species at risk can result in both benefits and costs. The Act recognizes that “wildlife, in all its forms, has value in and of itself and is valued by Canadians for aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, recreational, educational, historical, economic, medical, ecological and scientific reasons” (Species at Risk Act, S.C. 2002, c. 29). Self-sustaining and healthy ecosystems with their various elements in place, including species at risk, contribute positively to the livelihoods and the quality of life of all Canadians. A review of the literature confirms that Canadians value the preservation and conservation of species in and of themselves. Actions taken to preserve a species, such as habitat protection and restoration, are also valued. In addition, the more an action contributes to the recovery of a species, the higher the value the public places on such actions (Loomis and White 1996; DFO 2008). Furthermore, the conservation of species at risk is an important component of the Government of Canada’s commitment to conserving biological diversity under the International Convention on Biological Diversity. The Government of Canada has also made a commitment to protect and recover species at risk through the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996)6.  The specific costs and benefits associated with this Action Plan are described below.

Benefits

The benefits of recovery actions to support the long-term viability of Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters are unknown but likely positive.  As indicated above, Canadians value species for a number of reasons, including indirect use values (e.g. viewing) and non-market benefits (i.e., existence, bequest and option values)7.  While indirect use values in Canadian waters are unlikely, Canadians do participate in viewing activities in other countries and receive individual benefits from the activity.  A recent study in the United States identified the willingness-to-pay by Americans for Leatherback Sea Turtle recovery (Wallmo and Lew 2012).  Willingness-to-pay can provide a measure of the total value individuals have for a species. The mean value was $72.10 (2014 CD$) per household per year for recovery, with a lower value of $40.27 (2014 CD$) to move from Endangered to Threatened8.  These values are not directly transferable as there are demographic differences between Canadians and Americans, the value is for all Leatherback Sea Turtle populations not just the population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters, and it is not clear to what degree the actions in this Plan would result in recovery or an improvement of status of all Leatherback Sea Turtle populations.  However, it is likely that Canadians would be willing to pay some amount to recover the Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters, implying that there would be positive benefits to Canadians from the actions in this Plan that support recovery. 

The recovery measures to mitigate threats or increase our understanding of threats are also likely to provide broader benefits as some of the threats to these Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters are common to other sea turtles and marine mammals. As well, this plan includes support for ongoing programs and activities that are not species-specific (i.e., B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network and Pacific Marine Mammal Response Program (MMRP)). These programs provide assistance to, and information on, numerous species. As well, ocean research surveys generally collect information on various marine mammals, sea turtles and other species of interest when encountered, if feasible and appropriate. In particular, whales may benefit from the research activities in this plan. Consequently, many of the activities identified in this Action Plan will have positive impacts on species in addition to Leatherback Sea Turtle Pacific population(s).

Costs

The Implementation Schedule in this plan identifies three categories of recovery measures. Table 1 measures are those that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will undertake, Table 2 measures are those that DFO undertake collaboratively with others, while Table 3 identifies measures that others may undertake.  Table 1 and 2 measures are either ongoing measures for the life of the plan or new measures scheduled to begin within the first five years; therefore, costs are unchanged from year six onward.  The plan does not indicate an end date.

Overall the incremental costs for this Action Plan are anticipated to be low9.  The incremental costs for Table 1 activities are minimal as many of the actions are already undertaken as part of DFO’s mandate. The majority of incremental costs for DFO are for activities identified in Table 2, the cost of which are expected to be low.  Direct, indirect and/or in-kind costs are also expected for partners, other agencies, organizations or individuals that participate in Table 2 or 3 activities. These costs could not be estimated; however, based on the types of activities described and the scale of the costs that could be estimated it is likely that total costs for this Plan would be low. Costs for international organizations are not considered.

The majority of the estimated costs (Tables 1 and 2) are associated with measures that result in ongoing annual or biennial costs and do not have specified completion dates. Between 70% and 90% of the annual estimated costs for DFO are related research and monitoring.  All the Table 3 measures are related to research efforts.  DFO research costs are very low given the elusive nature of this species and its generally remote distribution as most of the research activities are linked to other existing activities.  The remaining estimated costs are primarily for stewardship, engagement and educational activities, domestically and abroad.  The costs of measures to develop of protocols, guidance and protection are very small in the first few years (<$10,000), as the activities are largely incorporated into ongoing work of DFO and other federal agencies.  Likely funding sources for these activities include existing federal resources, as well as supplemental funds from annual programs such as the Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP).  Supplemental funding from unspecified collaborators and partners may also be possible.

While the Implementation Schedule identifies DFO as the lead or co-lead for the activities analyzed, the extensive distribution of this species necessitates the involvement of numerous partners for research and stewardship activities.  A number of potential partners and collaborators were identified and/or have participated in similar activities in the past.  These partners include other federal departments and agencies, environmental organizations, academic institutions and programs, First Nations and other national governments.  Such activities may result in direct financial contributions as well as in-kind support from partners and collaborators in terms of staff time and resources for discussion, meetings and research.  It is possible that stewardship, engagement and education activities may be supported by in-kind and financial contribution from partners. 

In summary, the majority of the actions are collaborative research, with annual cost estimates for DFO activities for Tables 1 and 2 recovery measures expected to be low over the next ten years.  Cost estimates for contributions by others towards Table 2 activities and cost estimates for Table 3 activities are not known with a reasonable level of certainty as information on project specifics, participants and/or timelines are not available. Therefore, the overall costs and benefits of this Action Plan are unknown, although the benefits are likely to be positive and costs are likely to be low.

4. Measuring progress

The performance indicators presented in the associated recovery strategy provide a way to define and measure progress toward achieving the population and distribution objectives. A Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific Waters for the Period 2007 – 2012 is posted on the SARA registry (DFO, 2015).

Reporting on implementation of the action plan (under s. 55 of SARA) will be done by assessing progress towards implementing the Broad Strategies and Approaches to achieve recovery.

Reporting on the ecological and socio-economic impacts of the action plan (under s. 55 of SARA) will be done by assessing the results of monitoring the recovery of the species and its long term viability, and by assessing the implementation of the action plan.

5. References

  • COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). 2012. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Leatherback Sea Turtle Dermochelys coriacea in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. xv + 58 pp. (Species at Risk Public Registry).
  • DFO PLTRT (Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Leatherback Turtle Recovery Team). 2007. Recovery Strategy for Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Pacific Canadian Waters. In Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Vancouver. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. v + 41 pp.
  • DFO. 2008.  Estimation of the Economic Benefits of Marine Mammal Recovery in the St. Lawrence Estuary.  Policy and Economics Regional Branch, Quebec 2008.
  • DFO. 2014. Advice relevant to the identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Pacific population).  DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2013/075.
  • DFO. 2015. Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific Waters for the Period 2007-2012. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Report Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. v + 12 pp.
  • Gregr, E.J., Gryba, R., James, M.C., Brotz, L., and Thornton, S.J. 2015. Information relevant to the identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific waters. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2015/079. vii + 32p.
  • Loomis, J.B. & White, D.S (1996). Economic Benefits of Rare and Endangered Species: Summary and Meta-analysis. Ecological Economics, 18: 197-206. (en anglais seulement)
  • NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) and FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). 1998. Recovery Plan for U.S. Pacific Populations of the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD.
  • Wallmo, K. and Lew, D. K. (2012), Public Willingness to Pay for Recovering and Downlisting Threatened and Endangered Marine Species. Conservation Biology, 26: 830–839.

Appendix A: Effects on the environment and other species

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010), SARA recovery planning documents incorporate strategic environmental assessment (SEA) considerations throughout the document. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making and to evaluate whether the outcomes of a recovery planning document could affect any component of the environment or achievement of any of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’s goals and targets.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts upon non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the Action Plan itself, but are also summarized below in this statement.

The recovery measures to mitigate threats or increase our understanding of threats are also likely to provide broader benefits as some of the threats to these Leatherback Sea Turtle population(s) that frequent Canadian Pacific waters are common to other sea turtles and marine mammals. As well, this plan includes support for ongoing programs and activities that are not species-specific (i.e., B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network and Pacific Marine Mammal Response Program (MMRP)). These programs provide assistance to, and information on, numerous species. As well, ocean research surveys generally collect information on various marine mammals, sea turtles and other species of interest when encountered, if feasible and appropriate. In particular, whales may benefit from the research activities in this plan. Consequently, many of the activities identified in this Action Plan will have positive impacts on species in addition to Leatherback Sea Turtle Pacific population(s).

Appendix B: Record of cooperation and consultation

Action plans are to be prepared in cooperation and consultation with other jurisdictions, organizations, affected parties and others as outlined in SARA section 48. DFO has utilized a process of technical iterative document development, interagency involvement, and consultation with interested and affected parties to seek input to the development of this Action Plan. Information on participation is included below.

Initiation of the Action Plan Development process

At the initiation of the Leatherback Sea Turtle Action Planning process, letters were sent to all coastal First Nations, inviting their participation in the development of the Action Plan.  Letters of invitation were sent to Parks Canada Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Province of British Columbia, Department of National Defence, Transport Canada, requesting their participation in the process.

Action Plan Development

Action Plan Team meetings were held throughout the planning process and a proposed Action Plan was developed. The development of the Action Plan was the result of collaborative efforts and contributions from many individuals and organizations.  The Leatherback Sea Turtle Action Plan Team compiled the contributions from the Technical Workshop (November 3 and 4, 2011) and the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat assessment process (December 5, 2012) on “Information relevant to the identification of critical habitat for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Canadian Pacific waters”(Gregr et al. 2015).

The draft Action Plan was reviewed by Parks Canada Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Province of B.C. prior to targeted external consultation in June of 2016.

Targeted External Consultation of the draft Action Plan – June 1 to June 30, 2016

A targeted external peer-review of the draft Action Plan for the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Pacific population) in Canada was conducted. Letters inviting feedback were sent via email to interested stakeholders, international government contacts, and five Wildlife Management Boards. Feedback from two organizations was received.  Province of British Columbia, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada were also invited to provide input on the draft action plan.

Additional stakeholder, First Nations, and public input will be sought through the publication of the proposed document on the Species at Risk Public Registry for a 60 day public comment period.  Comments received will inform the final document.

Appendix C: 2011-2016 Leatherback Sea Turtle Action Plan team

Action Plan team
Team MembersOrganizations Represented
Sheila Thornton, ChairFisheries and Oceans Canada
John FordFisheries and Oceans Canada
Lisa SpavenFisheries and Oceans Canada
Bill CrawfordFisheries and Oceans Canada
Mike JamesFisheries and Oceans Canada
Scott BensonNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Pippa ShepherdParks Canada Agency
Cliff RobinsonParks Canada Agency
Action Plan team
Resource PersonnelOrganizations Represented
Lucas BrotzUniversity of British Columbia
Ed Gregr        SciTech Consulting, Vancouver, BC
Louvi Nurse    Fisheries and Oceans Canada

1 As Leatherback Sea Turtles in Canadian Pacific waters are likely to be from the same stocks as those in Pacific U.S. waters, Canada will develop measurable recovery criteria that take into account (but may not be identical to) the Recovery Criteria outlined in the ‘Recovery Plan for U.S. Pacific Populations of the Leatherback Turtle’ (NMFS and FWS 1998, and any future revisions).  In particular, the Canadian recovery criteria will need to address the identification of source beaches, minimum viable stock size, and long term stability or growth of nesting populations (U.S. Recovery Criteria 1, 2 and 3).

2 Priority” reflects the degree to which the measure contributes directly to the recovery of the species or is an essential precursor to a measure that contributes to the recovery of the species:

  • "High" priority measures are considered likely to have an immediate and/or direct influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Medium" priority measures are important but considered to have an indirect or less immediate influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Low" priority measures are considered important contributions to the knowledge base about the species and mitigation of threats.

3 “Timeline” is the timeframe from posting of the final document in which the measure will be accomplished.  A timeline listed as “ongoing” indicates the importance that the measure be conducted regularly through the foreseeable future; “unknown” means that the current paucity or complete lack of data for a given species does not allow us to state a certain timeline at this point; “uncertain” indicates that the measure is led by a 3rd party and timelines have not yet been determined.

4 Priority” reflects the degree to which the measure contributes directly to the recovery of the species or is an essential precursor to a measure that contributes to the recovery of the species:

  • "High" priority measures are considered likely to have an immediate and/or direct influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Medium" priority measures are important but considered to have an indirect or less immediate influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Low" priority measures are considered important contributions to the knowledge base about the species and mitigation of threats.

5 Priority” reflects the degree to which the measure contributes directly to the recovery of the species or is an essential precursor to a measure that contributes to the recovery of the species:

  • "High" priority measures are considered likely to have an immediate and/or direct influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Medium" priority measures are important but considered to have an indirect or less immediate influence on the recovery of the species.
  • "Low" priority measures are considered important contributions to the knowledge base about the species and mitigation of threats.

6 The Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk

7 Non-market benefits include bequest values (the value placed on conservation for future generations), existence values (the value people place on the existence of a species) and option values (the amount someone is willing to pay to keep open the option of future use of the species).

8 Values have been adjusted from 2011 US dollars to 2014 Canadian dollars per household for each of the next 10 years.

9 Low: $0-$1 million per year, Medium: $1-$10 million per year, High: >$10 million per year.  Based on the scale in the Triage Statement Form from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.


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