Leatherback turtle

Leatherback Turtle
Post-nesting leatherback turtle photographed in Rantau Abang, Terengganu. Photo credit: E.H. Chan

Post-nesting leatherback turtle photographed in Rantau Abang, Terengganu.
Photo credit: E.H. Chan.

Common name: Leatherback turtle
Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea
Local Malaysian name: Penyu belimbing

Conservation status: Listed as critically endangered in the 2009 IUCN Red List and in CITES Appendix I

Adult shell length: 150 – 180 cm
Adult body weight: 300 – 600 kg

Colour: black with white/grey patches
Food: Predominantly jellyfish
Range: nests in the tropics but migrates to temperate and sub-artic waters

Nesting sites in Malaysia: mainland beaches of Terengganu centred in Rantau Abang.  Isolated cases of nesting have also been reported in Johor and Sarawak.

Population status : Leatherback turtles in Malaysia have declined by 99.9% and with current annual nesting density of about four nests per year (compared to over 10,000 recorded in the 1950’s), the population can be considered to be effectively extinct.

Reproductive data:

Number of clutches deposited per individual per season: Range of 1 – 14, average of 6 clutches
Inter-nesting interval (interval between each nesting): Range of 7 – 14 days, average of 10 days
Number of eggs per clutch: Range of 20-100, average of 88
Nesting frequency between seasons: 2 – 4 years

Inter-nesting movements : The movements of leatherback turtles in Rantau Abang during the internesting period (period between each successive nesting event on the beach) has been studied by E.H.Chan and co-workers using radio-telemetry.  They traveled long-shore distances of over 100 km that extended seawards to about 40 km from the coastline.  However, locations were concentrated within 10 km of coastline, with a long-shore distance of 30 kn centred in Rantau Abang.  These findings led to the establishment of an offshore sanctuary for leatherback turtles in1991 – The Rantau Abang Restricted Fishing Zone.

Selected readings

  1. Chan, E.H. 2000. And the giants ascended no more. Millennium Marker story. 10 Jan. 2000, Section 2, The STAR, p 8 & 10. [Download]
  2. Chan, E. H. and H.C. Liew. 1996. Decline of the leatherback population in Terengganu, Malaysia, 1956-1995. Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 2(2): 196-203. [Download]
  3. Chan, E.H., S.A. Eckert, H.C. Liew and K.L. Eckert. 1991. Locating the internesting habitats of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Malaysian waters using radiotelemetry. Pp. 133 -138 in Biotelemetry XI: Proc. Eleventh International Symposium on Biotelemetry., 29 Aug. – 4 Sept. 1990, Yokohama, Japan. A. Uchiyama and C.J. Amlaner, Jr. (eds.). Waseda University Press, Tokyo, Japan.
  4. Eckert, S.A., H.C. Liew, K.L. Eckert and E.H. Chan. 1996. Shallow water diving by leatherback turtles in the South China Sea. Chelonian Conservation and Biology. 2(2): 237-243. [Download]