WATCH: Paddlers Rescue Stranded Leatherback Turtle Using a Tractor and a Paddle Board

by Caitlin Berard

Leatherback sea turtles are a true marvel of nature. They’re the largest of all turtle species and the heaviest reptile next to the crocodiles and alligators. The colossal leatherback can reach up to six feet in length and greatly surpass one thousand pounds in weight.

Unlike similar species, leatherback turtles don’t have a hard shell. As their name suggests, they have an exoskeleton covered in rubbery, leather-like skin. Interestingly, their lifespan is largely a mystery. While some scientists claim leatherbacks have a lifespan of just 30 years, others suggest the prehistoric creatures are capable of living 100 years or more.

Sadly, however, many don’t reach their full life expectancy. Though leatherback turtles have roamed the oceans of the Earth for millions of years, they now face extinction. In fact, leatherbacks are among the most endangered species on the planet.

Leatherbacks are pelagic, meaning they live in the open ocean, and are highly skilled divers. Despite their massive size and weight, leatherbacks are among the fastest-moving non-avian reptiles and can descend thousands of feet beneath the surface.

They cannot, however, remain underwater for more than about an hour without drowning. Leatherback turtles also can’t live outside of the water. Not only does their diet consist of jellyfish and other soft-bodied sea creatures but their exoskeleton needs moisture to fight off deadly infections.

Beach-Goers Get Creative to Save a Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle

There are currently less than 25,000 leatherback turtles left worldwide, sparking conservation efforts in every corner of the globe. Steps are being taken to save the prehistoric creatures from fishing nets, protect eggs from poachers, and direct newly hatched turtles away from shore and into the ocean.

As we’ve already established, however, leatherbacks are huge. Saving a baby turtle is easy enough, but a full-size leatherback is a different story entirely. Even a group of people would struggle to move a 1000-1500 pound turtle.

So when a group of beach-goers in Morocco stumbled upon a stranded leatherback turtle on the beach, they knew they were going to have to get creative in order to save its life. While a portion of the group kept the turtle wet by splashing it with water from the surrounding puddle, others went to get supplies.

Armed with a tractor and a surfboard, the latter group returned, driving the tractor straight through the sand toward the beached reptile. After hoisting the turtle onto the surfboard and securing it with rope, they attached the board to the tractor and carefully pulled the turtle back toward the water.

With the leatherback turtle safely returned to the ocean, it was untied and set free, quickly swimming out of sight.

Footage of the group’s heroic rescue was then posted to Reddit, where it received thousands of upvotes and glowing comments. “The genuine joy of having helped for the sake of helping is one of the best things,” one user wrote. “Awesome humans and an awesome idea,” another said.

“I love to see it,” added a third. “While leatherback turtles are only listed as ‘vulnerable,’ their numbers are decreasing. So props to these guys for doing everything they could to rescue it.”