Marine Conservation Society Press Release
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Look Out For Leatherbacks – The Turtles With A Built-in Central Heating System9th June 2010
Endangered turtles make their way to UK’s summer seas
They look like a black leather sofa with spots on and the shape of their shell inspired the boating phrase ‘to turn turtle’ and, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), they’re about to arrive off the coast near you.
MCS is urging coastal path walkers and sea-users to look out for leatherback turtles, and report them online to MCS, as part of ongoing work to determine UK hotspots for these critically endangered reptiles that migrate to UK seas each summer.
“Leatherbacks are amazing creatures, the biggest of the turtles, growing up to a couple of metres in length and weighing up to a tonne – about the same as small car,” said Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, “But what makes them really special and unlike any other reptile is the fact that they can maintain their own body heat, even in our chilly seas. This means that each year adult leatherbacks migrate from the tropics to UK seas, arriving in the summer just as our jellyfish start to gather in huge numbers.”
Leatherback turtles feed almost exclusively on jellyfish and are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Leatherbacks face huge threats to their survival including habitat destruction and disturbance at their tropical nesting beaches. They can get entangled and drown in fishing gear and die from starvation when they eat plastic litter, which they mistake for jellyfish, blocking up their digestive system. Sadly, each year small numbers of leatherbacks drown and wash up on UK shores after becoming entangled in pot buoy ropes or as a result of plastic ingestion.
“We encourage anyone who has spotted a turtle in UK waters, be it dead or alive, to report it immediately,“ said Peter Richardson, “The more UK turtle sightings we hear about, the better our understanding will be of these fascinating creatures, and the more we will know about how to make sure they are safe when they visit our seas.”
So far this year five have been seen, including two off west Wales, one off the Isle of Man, another off the Isle of Skye at the end of May and the most recent off Cleveleys Beach, north of Blackpool, by Simon Smith out walking his dog on Monday June 7th.
“The sea was very calm, and I was throwing the ball in for the dog to fetch when I noticed this big thing floating about fifty yards offshore. It looked like a corpse in a body bag! I threw the ball closer and it dived and then resurfaced further down the beach. I followed it and watched it with binoculars and realised it was a giant turtle. I got within about thirty yards of it at one point and watched it for almost 2 hours before the light faded. It wasn’t scared at all, and because there were a lot of jellyfish about I think it must have been feeding. It was a truly amazing experience!”
Five species of marine turtle have been reported in UK waters, with leatherbacks making up 75% of the records. MCS has been encouraging the reporting of marine turtles in UK waters since 2001, and publishes the UK Turtle Code, an information sheet on how to spot different turtle species and who to report them to.
UK and Ireland turtle encounters can be reported to MCS online at www.mcsuk.org and www.euroturtle.org/turtlecode where there are photographs and information to help identify the turtle species found in UK waters. Turtles can also be reported to Marine Environmental Monitoring, managers of TURTLE - the national database of turtle sightings, on 01348 875000 or at email@example.com
Live stranded turtles should not be returned to the sea but should be reported immediately to the RSPCA on 0300 1234999 (England & Wales), SSPCA on 0131 4474784 (Scotland) and to the EHS on 02870 823600 (Northern Ireland) to allow prompt rescue and rehabilitation.
For further information, and photographs contact:
Peter Richardson, Species Policy Officer. Tel: 01989 566017 Mob: 07793 118383
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Marine Conservation Society, Unit 3, Wolf Business Park, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, HR9 5NB. Fax: 01989 567815 www.mcsuk.org
Simon Smith is happy to be interviewed about his sighting near Blackpool – please contact Clare Fischer, Editorial and Media Officer, MCS, tel 01989 561658
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