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Dermochelys coriacea Vandelli, 1761
by Ms. Nurfarhana Hizan Binti Hijas & Dr. Chen Pelf Nyok
Newsletter
Dermochelys coriacea Vandelli, 1761
by Ms. Nurfarhana Hizan Binti Hijas & Dr. Chen Pelf Nyok

Sea turtles, also called marine turtles, are well-known sea creatures that have lived on earth for more than 100 million years. There are seven species of sea turtles in the world and four of them nest in Malaysia (Kemf et al., 2000). These are the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).

Among the marine turtles, the Leatherback Turtle is the largest and the heaviest (Spotila, 2004). The common name, 'Leatherback', is derived from its carapace (shell) characteristics. The Leatherback Turtle has an elongated carapace that tapers towards the posterior which is covered by a leathery skin, differentiating it from other sea turtles. Their leathery carapace and the longitudinal ridges along the carapace make them easily recognizable. The largest Leatherback ever recorded in the world was a male turtle stranded on the West Coast of Wales in 1988 that reached 256 cm long and weighed 916 kg (Morgan, 1989).

The Leatherback Turtle inhabits the open ocean, and nests on oceanic islands as well as on wide mainland beaches. During the spawning season, they will return to their hatching beach to lay their eggs. Each clutch comprises approximately 90-130 eggs and the duration of incubation lasts for approximately 65 days (about 2 months) (Das, 2015). In Malaysia, the Leatherback Turtles nest primarily on the mainland beaches of Terengganu, along a 15 km stretch of beach centred in Rantau Abang (Chan, 2006). Unfortunately, the species has not landed in Terengganu since 2010, but at the end of 2017, a total of 92 leatherback turtle eggs were found on Rhu Beach near Rantau Abang; sadly they never hatched (Zawawi Ali, Terengganu State Fisheries Director, pers. comm.).

Leatherback Turtles predominantly feed on jellyfish and they are capable of diving to a depth of 1,200 m in northern temperate waters in search of food (Das, 2015). They play an important role in the ocean ecosystems by controlling the population of jellyfish.

However, the population of Leatherback Turtles continues to decline due to several threats such as entanglement in fishing gear, habitat loss and degradation, as well as consumption of their eggs and meat, climate change and pollution. Currently, the Leatherback Turtle is categorised as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (Wallace et al., 2013).

References

  1. Chan, E.H. (2006). Marine turtles in Malaysia: On the verge of extinction? . Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 9 (2): pp. 175-184
  2. Das, I. (2015). A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 384.
  3. Kemf, E., Groombridge, B., Abreu, A. & Wilson, A. (2000). Marine turtles in the Wild. WWF, Switzerland.
  4. Morgan, P.J. (1989). Occurrence of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the British Islands in 1988 with reference to a record specimen. Proceedings of the ninth annual conference on sea turtle conservation and biology. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC-232. On file at South Florida Ecosystem Office, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Vero Beach, Florida: pp. 119-120
  5. Spotila, J.R. (2004). Sea turtles: A complete guide to their biology, behavior, and conservation. JHU Press. pp. 240.
  6. Wallace, B.P., Tiwari, M. & Girondot, M. (2013). Dermochelys coriacea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T6494A43526147. Retrieved January 02, 2020, from http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T6494A43526147.en
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