Population Changes of Nesting Leatherback Turtles
The population numbers represented in this graph are estimates of female leatherbacks seen nesting on shore for the latest years where information is available.

Dr. Paladino, teams of marine biologists, and Earthwatch volunteers are doing all that they can to save the leatherback population. The first step is understanding what is happening on the nesting beaches, how many turtles are nesting, how many eggs are laid, and how many hatchlings are surviving.
Each season from October to February Earthwatch team members walk the beaches and help count the turtles that nest and how many eggs are laid in each nest. They measure turtles, record ID tag numbers of returning turtles, and give "new" turtles new ID tags. Earthwatch teams sometimes help relocate eggs to hatcheries for protection from predators and high tides. When the eggs from the hatcheries hatch, Earthwatch volunteers help dig out the nests and release the baby hatchlings near the water.

Scientists also attach very small transmitters, or data-loggers, to selected turtles. These transmitters help monitor their local behavior and long-distance migrations to understand where the turtles go and what is happening to them off shore.

The scientists are finding that many factors are contributing to the decline of the leatherback population. Human activities appear to be the main threat — people taking eggs from nests, developers destroying nesting habitats to build beachside resorts, and off shore fishing vessels needlessly injuring turtles in nets. There is much more to learn and much more protection needed.

The good news is that locally Las Baulas has become a model for leatherback conservation and education. Now park officials from the community patrol the beach for egg "poachers" — people taking eggs illegally. They also regulate the number of tourists visiting the beach. Local schoolchildren participate in regular beach clean ups to remove debris harmful to nesting turtles and emerging hatchlings. The children have become "leatherback experts," presenting puppet plays to help educate visitors and residents about protecting this special turtle.