The leatherback sea turtle population faces extreme challenges as an endangered species in Canada, but did you know that many of those challenges can occur before the hatchlings even reach the water’s edge? If a mother sea turtle has laid her eggs clear of predators on land, and if the hatchling can navigate and survive its journey to sea, and if the young sea turtle can adapt to the harsh realities of ocean life, only then does it have a chance of survival.
Like other sea turtles, leatherbacks are known to display remarkable loyalty to the nesting beach where they were born. Upon reaching maturity, leatherbacks will usually return to lay their eggs in the same area where they were born a few tens of years before. Getting to the beach can require unfathomable navigation skills on behalf of the turtle; once it reaches the beach, a host of natural processes and human activities can stack up against the success of the leatherback’s nesting process.
Leatherbacks usually prefer to nest on open beaches, near deep water. Flooding and erosion hazards in these areas can create a loss of nests. The collection of eggs for sale at local markets is a widespread problem for this species on nesting grounds, especially since the turtles will continue to return to these same beaches time after time. That, combined with increasing beach development, the creation of retaining walls, mechanical raking of beaches and off-road vehicles are all factors that have completely affected the leatherback sea turtle species.
Upon nesting, female leatherbacks use their hind flippers to dig and create a nest in which they lay anywhere between 50 and 166 eggs. They will lay their eggs at eight-to 12-day intervals, producing an average of six clutches per season. It is during a roughly 65-day incubation and emergence period that predation is highest for the sea turtle eggs. They may face domestic dogs, vultures, skunks, sea gulls, raccoons, lizards, opossums, jaguars and even ants, which have all been recorded preying upon nests and hatchlings. And if the turtles can beat those odds, artificial lighting in the vicinity of the beaches can lead to disorientation for both adults and hatchlings. For the adults, this contributes to failed nesting attempts, yet another reason this species is in so much trouble.