California’s new state marine reptile
The endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, which makes an epic ocean-crossing journey each year to feast on sea nettle jellies off the California coast, is now the state’s official marine reptile. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the designation into law last week.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium was among the many ocean conservation organizations that supported the designation, introduced by Assemblymember Paul Fong of Mountain View. Fong was also the co-author of Aquarium-sponsored legislation that outlawed the shark fin trade in California.
Leatherback sea turtles are regular visitors to Monterey Bay. (That’s where staff member Alison Barratt took the photo above.) They make a 12,000-mile round trip journey from Indonesia to fatten up on jellies off our coast. Newly published research suggests that sea turtles may be able to sniff out the presence of ocean upwelling, which triggers the jellyfish blooms that turtles find so irresistible.
Unfortunately, longline fishing and development on leatherback nesting beaches have pushed this ancient reptile to the brink of extinction. We’re hoping its new status will bring attention to the threats facing leatherbacks and other sea turtles – and spark greater support for global conservation efforts.
That way, perhaps the leatherback will enjoy a better fate than the California grizzly bear, which survives only on the state flag. (Leatherback flag ©Oceana)
Starting in 2013, each October 15 is designated as Leatherback Conservation Day, with California schools encouraged to share the leatherback’s story with special activities for students.