A hawksbill turtle swimming over a reef in the Caribbean UKOTs

Turtle strandings on the rise this winter

3 minute read

Young turtles have been washing up on UK and Irish beaches. Since November 2022, 13 juvenile turtles have been found stranded on shorelines from Anglesey to County Mayo.

Turtles in the UK

There are seven species of marine turtle found in seas around the world. In the UK, the largest species, the leatherback turtle, visits our coastal waters to feed on blooming jellyfish populations during the summer months.

As the name suggests, leatherback turtles have a leathery skin covering their backs (called a carapace), rather than a hard shell. They can survive in our temperate waters by changing their own body temperature - the only reptile known to have this ability.

The other hard-shelled species are more adapted to warmer tropical waters and are less likely to survive in ours.

Stranded Turtle - Mike Pearson

Juvenile Loggerhead turtle found in Helston, Cornwall

Credit: Mike Pearson

Since November, a number of turtle strandings have been reported to the Marine Conservation Society, and Marine Environmental Monitoring, which maintains the database of UK and Irish turtle sightings.

In total, thirteen turtles have been reported: twelve loggerheads and one rare Kemp’s Ridley turtle. They were all relatively small juveniles between 20-50cm in shell length.

Most strandings have been in the south-west, with the furthest north being Anglesey. One was also reported on the west coast of Ireland in County Mayo.

Stranded Turtle - BDMLR

Juvenile Loggerhead turtle found in Perranporth, Cornwall

Credit: BDMLR

We spoke to Cat Frampton, who found a stranded loggerhead turtle in Bude, Cornwall:

“We were walking along Widemouth Bay, filling a bucket with sea plastic, fishing nets and line and plastic bottle lids, when my husband saw a turtle on the high tide line. It was still and looked lifeless, and not being up to speed on turtles, we assumed it was dead. I took some photos and we carried on with our walk.

"Once we got home, I was curious about what a turtle could be doing in UK waters, so I looked up the Marine Conservation Society online. I found a ‘report a turtle sighting’ page on the website and even though I got a few things wrong, like what species it was and that it was actually alive, my reporting, along with another person’s, meant the turtle was found and hopefully, will live.”

turtle in Bude, Cornwall - Cat Frampton 1

A juvenile loggerhead turtle found stranded on Bude, Cornwall

Credit: Cat Frampton

Why do they wash up here?

We often see an increase in the number of stranded turtles during the winter months. Younger turtles are unable to swim against strong currents and winter storms, which leads them to be carried off course and into our waters.

Hard-shelled turtles, like loggerheads and Kemp’s Ridleys, go into cold water shock in our chilly winter seas and do not survive for long periods in these conditions.

Of the turtles reported this season, four have been rescued and taken to specialist facilities to be rehabilitated and hopefully released in the future. Every effort is made to collect every individual found, so we can either rehabilitate the live turtles, or examine those that didn’t survive to understand what led to them arriving on UK and Irish shores.


A loggerhead turtle being examined

Credit: Peter Richardson

Rod Penrose, who leads Marine Environmental Monitoring, said:

“Although we see the most hard-shell turtle strandings and sightings between December and February, this year we’ve had more than usual. They’re mostly juvenile or injured adults, so it’s thought that they struggled to fight the strong winds and currents of severe storms in their native waters of the US and Caribbean, where they were carried offshore into the Atlantic Gyre before ending up in cold UK waters”

Turtle in Rehab - BDMLR

Juvenile Loggerhead turtle. Found in Bude, Cornwall

Credit: BDMLR

What to do if you find a turtle

If you do find a stranded turtle, DO NOT put it back into the sea. It will be in cold shock and will need help. Instead, wrap the turtle in a damp towel and set it on its belly somewhere safe and sheltered, raising its back end slightly to allow any water to drain from its lungs.

Be sure to report the sighting as soon as possible so that the turtle can be taken to a specialist facility where it can hopefully recover or be treated.

For more information on what to do if you spot a turtle, download the Turtle Code.

Report a turtle sighting

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