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Marine turtles in UK waters

As a sea user, you can help in the effort to protect endangered marine turtles by providing information about your encounters with these spectacular creatures in UK waters.

Marine turtles found in UK waters

Of the world’s seven marine turtle species, six have been recorded in UK waters. They are the leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, green and hawksbill turtles.

The leatherback, the largest marine turtle, is the species most frequently recorded in UK waters. Leatherbacks have a flexible, leathery shell and are unique among reptiles in that they are able to metabolically raise their body temperature above that of their immediate environment, allowing them to survive in colder waters. Each summer, leatherbacks migrate to UK waters where they feed on jellyfish.

UK and ROI Turtle Guide Screen Shot

Download the turtle code by clicking on the button below

The other five species have hard shells and are less frequently encountered in UK waters, where they usually occur as stray juveniles carried by currents from warmer seas. Our Turtle Code includes a turtle ID guide.

Report a turtle sighting

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Marine turtles found in UK waters

Of the world’s seven marine turtle species, six have been recorded in UK waters. They are the leatherback, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, green and hawksbill turtles.

The leatherback, the largest marine turtle, is the species most frequently recorded in UK waters. Leatherbacks have a flexible, leathery shell and are unique among reptiles in that they are able to metabolically raise their body temperature above that of their immediate environment, allowing them to survive in colder waters. Each summer, leatherbacks migrate to UK waters where they feed on jellyfish.

The other five species have hard shells and are less frequently encountered in UK waters, where they usually occur as stray juveniles carried by currents from warmer seas. Our Turtle Code includes a turtle ID guide.

Leatherback Sea Turtle William Farah

Leatherback turtle

Credit: William Farah via Shutterstock

Marine turtles are threatened

In UK waters, threats include:

  • Accidental entanglement in fishing gear: although turtles can dive to great depths, they become stressed and drown when trapped underwater by fishing gear. Fishing gear discarded at sea may also entangle and kill turtles.
  • Marine litter: especially plastic, which turtles mistake for jellyfish. Once ingested, plastic can block a turtle’s gut leading to starvation.
  • Boat collisions: turtles often bask and must surface regularly to breathe, leaving them vulnerable to boat strike.

PLEASE BE VIGILANT, AND DO NOT DISCARD FISHING GEAR OR LITTER AT SEA.

Marine turtles are protected

Marine turtles are legally protected but there is no offence if turtles are caught accidentally in fishing gear. Nor is it an offence to help turtles if entangled or stranded, or temporarily to hold dead turtles for later examination by experts.

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What to do if you find a sick, stranded or entangled turtle

Marine turtles will drown if trapped underwater, but prompt action can save them. A turtle that is entangled or trapped is likely to be stressed so always approach calmly and cautiously. Large turtles deliver a serious bite and a blow from a flipper can be painful, so be careful. Due to possible health risks involved in handling turtles, always wear rubber gloves.

AVOID TOWING TURTLES TO SHORE. They should be disentangled and released at sea wherever possible. Leatherback turtles should NOT be hauled aboard a boat.

For detailed information about what to do if you find a sick, stranded or entangled turtle, download our Turtle code leaflet.

Please report all turtle encounters

Please record the following details:

  • A description of the turtle (alive or dead), identification of species (at least to leatherback/hard-shelled level) and overall straight length. Note any damage (e.g. cuts, scars) and take photographs when possible.
  • Location (longitude & latitude/OS grid reference), date and time of sighting.
  • Other observations, such as turtle’s behaviour, whether caught in fishing gear (including exact nature of entanglement, gear involved), etc.
  • Presence of tags. Many conservation projects place plastic or metal tags on turtles’ flippers, which display identification numbers and a return address. Record any tag details if this can be done without causing disturbance to the turtle.

Please report all dead turtles, even if they have to be discarded at sea. Records from diaries or logbooks, however old, are also of interest.

If you have any photos to submit, please email them to [email protected] tag us on social media with the hashtag #turtlesighting.

Report a turtle sighting

Report now

How we use your data

We use the data to tell us what is happening with turtle populations around the UK – specifically when and where they are occurring.

We publish this data with our university partners and this gives us baseline knowledge that we can use to compare any changes that might happen in the future as a result of major environmental issues such as climate change.

We're taking urgent action to safeguard our ocean's future

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