THE Marine Conservation Society is appealing for seaside locals and tourists to keep their eyes peeled for an endangered species which are arriving in our waters in the coming weeks.
Leatherback turtles feed on jellyfish which, as reported by the Leader last month, are setting up camp off our coast thanks to the ever warming seas in the UK.
They can measure up to three metres in length and weigh as much as a tonne, the incredible turtles can maintain their body heat up to 18 degrees warmer than even the chilliest of British seas.
And the MCS are hoping readers will help them build up a picture of how many are migrating to our seas to help with their project to conserve the turtle numbers which are dwindling in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
August is the peak time for leatherback turtles to be seen in UK waters, as they arrive from their nesting grounds in the Caribbean to refuel on our abundant seasonal jellyfish blooms.
MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, Dr Peter Richardson, said: “While conservation action at important nesting beaches is likely to be playing a part, it may also be due to the increasing availability of their jellyfish prey, combined with collapses in the populations of predatory fish such as tuna and sharks.”
So far in 2011, 12 sightings have been reported from South West Wales and England, seven of which have been seen in the last fortnight.
Dr Richardson added: “The leatherback is the largest of all marine turtle species and at a distance could be mistaken for a floating log, but if you approach them slowly and carefully, once you see their large reptilian head, massive flippers and ridged leathery shell you can’t mistake them for anything else.”
Retired submarine engineer Godfrey Day, from Hampshire was holidaying in Cornwall when he spotted a leatherback just south of St Agnes Head in late July. He said: “We were walking back along the low route from the old mine works at Chapel Porth when we saw this big thing floating in the water. I immediately thought it was a sunfish, but when I got the binoculars out I could see it was a leatherback. I’d say it was between six to eight feet long and it was wallowing on the surface about 50 yards from the cliff. Interestingly it was missing its left fore flipper, there was a white scar where it should have been. We watched it for about fifteen minutes!”
MCS has been encouraging the reporting of marine turtles in UK waters since 2001, and leatherbacks make up 75 per cent of those sightings already recorded. To help identify turtles in UK waters, spotters can download The UK Turtle Code, created by MCS with support from Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. The code describes the different species and how to identify them and who to report them to.
Readers can log their turtle encounters by visiting www.mcsuk.org.
Have you seen a leatherback turtle or other interesting sea creature? Send your stories and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit us on twitter: www.twitter.com/louthleadernews.