Turtles Under Threat: Ocean warming forces leatherback turtles to travel further for food

London, 15 January 2020 – New research in French Guiana supported by Greenpeace, reveals that rising ocean temperatures and changing sea currents are forcing Pacific leatherback turtles to travel almost twice the distance to reach new feeding grounds after leaving their nesting grounds.


The findings are revealed today in a new Greenpeace report, Turtles Under Threat [1], which highlights how human activities are endangering global turtle populations. 

Every year thousands of turtles are caught as ‘by-catch’ by industrial fishing. Plastic pollution also poses a growing threat. It is estimated that over 50% of all sea turtles have ingested pieces of plastic putting them at a much higher risk of death. Climate change and warming oceans are also putting turtles under increasing pressure, threatening their feeding grounds and breeding habits.

Will McCallum of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, said:
“Sea turtles survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, but they might not survive us. Human activity has put such severe pressure on sea turtle populations around the world that six out of the seven species are threatened with extinction and without urgent action, the situation will only get worse.”

In French Guiana, the number of eggs laid by sea turtles on beaches is approximately 100 times smaller now than it was in the 1990s. The extra energy expended to find new feeding grounds is likely to reduce the number of eggs they lay each season, shrinking turtle numbers further. 

The researchers, led by Damien Chevallier, tagged ten nesting female leatherback turtles on the Yalimapo and Remire-Montjoly beaches in French Guiana to track their subsequent migrations through the North Atlantic. Some swam as far as Nova Scotia in northeast Canada and France to find new feeding grounds. Each of the turtles was given a name. One of them, Frida, was found dead on a beach in Suriname just 120km from her starting point. She had become entangled in a discarded gill net and drowned. [2]

“The death of Frida so close to her nesting ground, is a stark reminder that we must protect our oceans so that turtles and other animals are safe to feed, breed and grow old,” said Will McCallum.

Leatherback turtles migrate north after nesting to reach cooler waters where jellyfish, their prey, are more abundant. As the oceans warm and currents change, they are being forced to travel greater distances to find new hunting grounds. 

Greenpeace is committed to protecting sea turtles and all forms of marine life, and is campaigning for a strong new Global Ocean Treaty which would pave the way for a global network of fully protected marine sanctuaries covering 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. This would give sea turtles and marine life the chance they need to recover and thrive.


[1] The report was written by Greenpeace International in collaboration with Damien Chevallier and other scientists from the Institut Plurisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC) of Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) who conducted the tracking research as part of Greenpeace Pole to Pole expedition in June 2019. It is available upon request

[2] Images and video of Frida are available on request

[3] Will McCallum is Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK


James Hanson, Press Officer, Greenpeace UK: +44 7801 212 994, james.hanson@greenpeace.org

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