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Documentary video project spells out
plight of world's largest sea turtle

Film review by Carrie Robertson/Gulf of Mexico Foundation

This half-hour documentary, now available on VHS from Turtle Island Restoration Network, will open the eyes of even the most hard-core conservationists, urging them to take action.

Not your typical Discovery Channel educational video, "Last Journey for the Leatherback?" takes a hard-hitting approach at spelling out the plight of the leatherback sea turtle and its fellow ocean dwellers.

Underwater scenes of sea turtles swimming peacefully over reefs and through clear blue water are juxtaposed with shocking footage of turtles and marine mammals being violently hauled onto longline fishing vessels with flippers frantically flapping as crew men attempt to untangle them from monofilament line and deadly hooks. In addition to hauling in swordfish and other commercially viable seafood, the deadly lines kill many unmarketable marine animals whose lives end in a pile of useless bycatch. While some are released alive, many others die before being pulled onto the boat.

In a half hour, the video provides an overview of the history of the world's sea turtles, showing how and why their populations flourished throughout history and then began to plummet during the past 50 years. It discusses the evolution of turtles and their specially adapted anatomy and survival skills which have allowed the leatherback, the earth's largest living reptile, to flourish until recently for 150 million years.

The film uses graphics, video footage, and interviews with scientists such as Blue Ocean Institute's Dr. Carl Safina and National Geographic's explorer-in-residence Dr. Sylvia Earle to bring to life how leatherbacks and other turtle species are being decimated by egg poaching, commercial fishing and habitat destruction.

Dr. Earle calls sea turtles "ambassadors to the sea" and "the ocean's canary in the coal mine," prophetically stating, "as go sea turtles, so go our oceans." The film reports that, whereas many cultures throughout history have revered the gentle, ancient sea turtle as a symbol of creation, longevity, and wisdom, modern-day humans have not followed suit and will be responsible for this animals' demise unless changes in fishing practices and habitat protection are put in place.

The documentary ends with a call for action, urging viewers to follow three guidelines:

  1. Do not eat swordfish, tuna or any top-of-the-food chain fish.
  2. Write or email the United Nations and ask for a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific.
  3. Contribute to Save the Leatherback Campaign at

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