An Open Love Letter to the Leatherback Turtle


by Allison Ledwon I’ve never seen you in person, but I remember being very young and seeing a statue of you in the reptile house at the zoo. You were huge! I was also a lot smaller then, but you are still one big turtle. Especially compared to the box turtle, Tokka (the bad turtle from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in case you were wondering), that takes up residence in my parent’s front room. I remember always asking my mom to read me the sign in front of the statue as I sat on your back.

She told me that your shell wasn’t hard like most turtles, but sort of soft, like leather. She told me that you are the largest species of sea turtle and that you eat jellyfish. Even at the age of five, I thought that eating jellyfish was really hardcore. You migrate across two oceans, both the Pacific and the Atlantic, reiterating your hardcore-ness. See, you’re so cool that I had to include a word that doesn’t exist.

This was always one of my favorite parts of our bi-weekly trips to the zoo, but one day the statue wasn’t there anymore. I never did find out what happened to it. But now that I’m grown, I do know what’s happening to you.

You’re endangered, well, depending on who you ask. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies you as vulnerable, but the World Wildlife Foundation classifies you as critically endangered due to some extremely threatened populations, like in the Pacific or the southwest Atlantic Ocean. Either way, the threats you face are real. All over the world, in the areas you call home, people collect your eggs for sale and consumption, but people also take away your beachfront homes. You’re dependent on beaches to lay those eggs in the first place, but they are disappearing due to rising water levels, as well as beach development. Human development also affects the places you eat, coral reefs and sea grass beds, through agricultural run-off and other forms of pollution. And I am so sorry.

I know that sorry isn’t enough, and we should do better. Global warming and rising sea levels are a major issue that affects all of us, land animals and marine animals alike. By doing things to reduce our emissions, like driving less and taking public transportation whenever motor vehicles are necessary, we can make a difference. I hope, as with many animals that face similar plights, that we can change things in time to keep you around a long time. My future children and their children would want to learn about you too, and I am going to do my best to give them that opportunity.

Love Always,

Turtle Girl

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