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Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle

Introduction

The leatherback turtle is the sole member of the family Dermochelyidae.  It is the largest (1.8-2.4 metres) of all the marine turtles and exhibits the deepest diving behaviour.  In addition, this species travels great distances including extensive seasonal migrations northward to forage and southward to nest.  Its distribution is more widespread than any other marine turtle species.

Although the leatherback turtle is designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as one species, it is suspected that two distinctive populations (suggested subspecies) exist in Canadian waters: the Atlantic population and the Pacific population.  Separate recovery strategies and action plans are being developed for the species in its Atlantic and Pacific ranges, to focus on the issues specific to each region.  Under the current designation, for the species to be considered “recovered” and become eligible for re-assessment by COSEWIC for de-listing, the respective recovery goals for both strategies will need to be achieved. 

Leatherback turtles are listed as Endangered under Schedule I of SARA, which results in legal protection and mandatory recovery requirements.  Automatic prohibitions were introduced in June 2004.  Protection under the Act prohibits killing, harming and harassing of individuals and also prohibits the damaging or destroying of their residence, and protection for critical habitat (once identified in a recovery strategy and/or action plan).  The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, as a “competent minister” under SARA for leatherback turtles, is responsible for the development of recovery strategies and action plans for this species.  (each of the listed aquatic species under the Act.)

This recovery strategy summarizes the best available information on the biology and status of the Atlantic leatherback turtle, and reflects not only our limited knowledge about this species but also the need for international cooperation in its recovery.  The strategy will be followed by the Atlantic Leatherback Turtle Action Plan (produced as a separate document), also a requirement under the Act.  Action plans list the measures that are to be taken over the next 5 years to implement the recovery strategy.  It is hoped that this strategy will provide a mechanism to work toward minimizing threats to leatherback turtles both nationally and internationally, eventually resulting in their recovery and delisting.