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Recovery Strategy for Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Pacific Canadian Waters


1. Introduction

This recovery strategy concerns an animal many Canadians may never have heard of, but all will find extraordinary. What little is known about the leatherback turtle offers tantalizing glimpses into a remarkable physiology and life history. The adult leatherback is not only the most migratory of all sea turtles but also the largest and widest ranging reptile, capable of annual journeys of more than 15,000 km. From an evolutionary perspective, the leatherback turtle is unique among extant turtles and the sole surviving representative of the family Dermochelyidae, thought to be at least 100 million years old.

Genetically distinct Pacific and Atlantic stocks of leatherbacks make extensive feeding migrations to Canadian coastal waters from nesting beaches and rearing areas in tropical seas. The species' occurrence in Canadian waters and its increasing global rarity demand aggressive conservation measures that involve not only actions in Canada but also the participation of Canadians in international programs and projects. This Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle in Pacific Canadian Waters complements one developed for leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters.

Adult Pacific leatherbacks are often seen foraging off the coast of B.C. between July and September. Although sightings are not frequent, a database compiled by Fisheries and Oceans Canada shows the animals to range along the entire B.C. coast, including inshore waters. The collapse of the Pacific stock means that the accidental removal of even a few adults may slow or jeopardize recovery of the species.

This recovery strategy summarizes the biology and status of the Pacific leatherback turtle, and reflects not only our limited knowledge about this animal but also the need for international cooperation in its recovery. The Strategy will be followed by the development of an Action Plan, as required under SARA. The Action Plan will list the measures that are to be taken over 5 years to implement the Recovery Strategy. Fortunately, Canadians have a great deal to contribute to recovery activities, ranging from participation of coastal British Columbians in reporting sightings and industry-specific measures to contributions to international research and policy efforts.