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Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle in Atlantic Canada

Leatherback Turtle

December 2006

Leatherback Turtle

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is“to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat (

Recommended citation:

Atlantic Leatherback Turtle Recovery Team 2006. Recovery Strategy for Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in Atlantic Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa, vi + 45 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration: J. Domm for Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Également disponible en français sous le titre :

« Programme de rétablissement pour la tortue luth dans les eaux canadiennes de l'Atlantique »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, June 2006. All rights reserved.

ISBN 0-662-44263-6

Catalogue no. En3-4/14-2006E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustration) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


The recovery strategy for the Leatherback turtle in Atlantic Canada has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions described in the Preface. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Leatherback turtle as required by the Species at Risk Act.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Leatherback turtle and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and its overall responsibility for species at risk conservation. The Minister will report on progress within five years.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the species. The Minister will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsibile Jurisdictions

The responsible jurisdiction for the Leatherback turtle is Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Leatherback turtles occur in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and this document deals with the Atlantic component of this species including individuals occurring off of the coast of the following provinces and/or territories. Their respective governments also cooperated in the production of this recovery strategy:

  • Québec
  • New Brunswick
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Nova Scotia
  • Newfoundland & Labrador


This document was prepared by the Atlantic Leatherback Turtle Recovery Team.

The Atlantic Leatherback Turtle Recovery Team was formed in 2002 in order to develop a recovery strategy that fosters the recovery of Leatherback turtles by minimizing human-induced mortality in Canadian Atlantic waters. Team membership was sought from a variety of organizations expressing interest in the species. The Team attempted to create and maintain an inclusive and transparent process throughout its tenure. The stated role of the Team was to "provide advice to relevant governmental agencies and stakeholders through the development of a Recovery Strategy that outlines objectives and approaches for the mitigation of human impacts on the leatherback turtles related to Canadian activities in the Atlantic Ocean."


  • Robert Jones, DFO, Science (Ottawa)
  • Cathy Merriman, World Wildlife Fund
  • Troy Atkinson, Nova Scotia Swordfishermen's Association
  • Sherman Boates, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
  • Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre
  • Jerry Conway, DFO, Fisheries Management (Maritimes)
  • Penny Doherty, Ecology Action Centre
  • Derek Fenton, DFO, Oceans (Maritimes)
  • Bert Fricker, NSLTWG/Commercial Fisherman
  • Patrick Gray, Atlantic Shark Association
  • Chris Harvey-Clarke, Dalhousie University
  • Andrew Hebda, Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
  • Catherine Hood, DFO, Newfoundland
  • Justin Huston, Nova Scotia Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Mike James, Dalhousie University
  • Dave Kulka, DFO, Newfoundland Region
  • Kathleen Martin, Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle Working Group (NSLTWG)
  • Don McAlpine, New Brunswick Museum
  • Jim McMillan, DFO, Science (Maritimes)
  • Carl Myers, DFO, Communications (Maritimes)
  • Mark Lanteigne, DFO, Gulf Region
  • Christine Penney, Clearwater
  • Kirsten Querbach, DFO, Species at Risk (Maritimes)
  • Frank Ring, DFO, Gulf Region
  • Murray Rudd, DFO, Policy and Economics (Maritimes)
  • Cheryl Ryder, U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – Office of Protected Resources
  • Chantale Thiboutot, DFO, Quebec Region
  • Gary Weber, DFO, Fisheries Management (Maritimes)


Fisheries and Oceans would like to acknowledge all members of the recovery team for their dedicated efforts in providing information, expertise and perspectives in the development of this recovery strategy document. In particular, DFO wishes to thank Mike James and Kathleen Martin of the Nova Scotia Leatherback turtle working group (NSLTWG) and Don McAlpine of the New Brunswick Museum for contributing information, maps and/or figures. Furthermore, DFO wishes to recognize the invaluable input provided by the broader interested public in the consultations process.

Environmental Considerations

Environmental considerations must be incorporated into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The recovery planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. Environmental considerations are incorporated directly in the strategy itself, but are also summarized as follows.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Leatherback turtle. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered; however, because the recovery objectives recommend additional research on the species and education and outreach initiatives, the consideration of environmental effects concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects.


SARA defines residence as: "a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or
" [SARA S2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.


The Leatherback turtle is a marine reptile and is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. The Leatherback turtle was listed as endangered under SARA in June 2003. Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Maritimes Region, led the development of this recovery strategy. The proposed strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41).

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