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The Leatherback Turtle

, 246 pages

9 b&w photos, 70 line drawings, 16 color plates

September 2015



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The Leatherback Turtle

Biology and Conservation

Weighing as much as 2,000 pounds and reaching lengths of over seven feet, leatherback turtles are the world’s largest reptile. These unusual sea turtles have a thick, pliable shell that helps them to withstand great depths—they can swim more than one thousand meters below the surface in search of food. And what food source sustains these goliaths? Their diet consists almost exclusively of jellyfish, a meal they crisscross the oceans to find.

Leatherbacks have been declining in recent decades, and some predict they will be gone by the end of this century. Why? Because of two primary factors: human redevelopment of nesting beaches and commercial fishing. There are only twenty-nine index beaches in the world where these turtles nest, and there is immense pressure to develop most of them into homes or resorts. At the same time, longline and gill net fisheries continue to overwhelm waters frequented by leatherbacks.

In The Leatherback Turtle, James R. Spotila and Pilar Santidrián Tomillo bring together the world’s leading experts to produce a volume that reveals the biology of the leatherback while putting a spotlight on the conservation problems and solutions related to the species. The book leaves us with options: embark on the conservation strategy laid out within its pages and save one of nature’s most splendid creations, or watch yet another magnificent species disappear.

James R. Spotila is the L. Drew Betz Chair Professor of Environmental Science at Drexel University and director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. The founding president of the International Sea Turtle Society and chairman of the board of The Leatherback Trust, he is the author of Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation and Saving Sea Turtles: Extraordinary Stories from the Battle against Extinction. Pilar Santidrián Tomillo is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies and the research director of The Leatherback Trust.

"Despite the dire issues facing the Leatherback, the book shows tremendous respect for its subject and a genuine, educated commitment to save the remarkable Leatherback."

"The massive, magical leatherback remains the last ancient survivor of an otherwise now-extinct family of sea turtles. They survive as Earth’s heaviest reptile and a warm-blooded one to boot. They have been called ‘the largest wild animal you can walk right up to with no fear of being attacked.’ In this excellent volume, the people who have spent their lives learning more, first-hand, about leatherback turtles than anyone in history, share centuries worth of field-knowledge and deep thought. If this book was available when I was writing Voyage of the Turtle, I’d have written a much better book!"

"The Leatherback Turtle provides a global reference for a globally distributed species and fills any number of data gaps for biologists, managers and citizen-scientists, especially in places such as the southeastern United States that are documenting an increasing trend in leatherback nesting."

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