Posted 23rd May 2014
As a celebration of all things turtle on World Turtle Day (23rd May), we've teamed up with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to find out more on these amazing marine reptiles and how we can see them right here in Britain!
It's perhaps a little known fact that leatherback turtles (pictured above) are regular visitors to the UK in summer. After taking an enormous migration journey over 7,000km, they visit warming British waters to prey on swarms of jellyfish. Here's just a few facts on these magnificent reptiles...
Turtle eggs are around the size of a ping-pong ball and have tough but pliable shells. Female turtles dig their nests up to a metre deep under the sand, so the egg shells need to be able to survive being dropped inside.
When hatchling turtles hit the surf, usually at night, they immediately start swimming against the direction of the waves, which takes them out to sea. They swim non-stop for between 24-48 hours, powered by what's left of their egg's yolk in their tiny stomachs. This takes them away from the predator-rich inshore waters and far out to sea, where they spend the next few years of their lives.
These spend their first few years out in the open ocean, drifting in currents and feeding on whatever they find on the ocean surface – this often brings them into lethal contact with marine litter like plastic and balloons. Juvenile turtles have evolved to grow wider more quickly than they grow longer. This means that they soon outgrow the gape of the jaws of many of their predators.
If a growing turtle can make it past the many challenges it faces, it can lead a long adult life. Leatherback turtles are the largest of the marine turtles, usually growing to about two metres in length. Leatherbacks regularly visit UK waters in the summer to feed on our abundant jellyfish, and should start turning up just off the coast around now. August is the peak time to see leatherbacks as they arrive from their nesting grounds in the Caribbean to refuel. The largest leatherback on record was a male that washed up at Harlech, Wales in 1988. This giant measured 2.9 metres total length and weighed almost a ton. Click here to keep up with sightings around Britain or click here to report your sighting.
To celebrate World Turtle Day with MCS and find out more click here!
Photo courtesy of Mike Daines