On the beaches of Gabon in West Africa aerial and land surveys estimated a population of between 15,730 and 41,373 individual females. The findings are published in Biological Conservation. According to sciencedaily.com Dr. Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter said: "We knew that Gabon was an important nesting site for leatherback turtles but until now had little idea of the size of the population or its global ranking. We are now focusing our efforts on working with local agencies to coordinate conservation efforts to ensure this population is protected against the threats from illegal fisheries, nest poaching, pollution and habitat disturbance, and climate change."
The scientists spent three nesting seasons between 2002 and 2007 carrying out air surveys of the coastline. The area stretches out about 600 kilometers. Leatherbacks were first described nesting in Gabon in 1984. According to the study 79 percent of the leatherbacks are already in protected areas.
Co-author of the paper Dr. Angela Formia said: "These findings show the critical importance of protected areas to maintain populations of sea turtles. Gabon should be commended for creating a network of National Parks in 2002 that have provided a sanctuary for this endangered species as well as other rare wildlife."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists leatherback turtles as critically endangered.