Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Although they don’t breed here in the UK, this large marine reptile can be spotted in our seas as they follow their favourite prey – jellyfish. These beautiful animals are critically endangered for a number of reasons, and can tragically mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish.
|Identification||Adults up to 2 m in length and can weigh up to 600 Kg. World’s largest turtle. No obvious shell. Bony plates set along distinct ridges down the back. Dark in colour with white and pink spots. Females have a characteristic ‘pink spot’ on the top of their heads. Large front flippers.|
|Distribution||Considered native to the UK but do not breed here. Recorded as far north as Alaska and as far south as the tip of South New Zealand. Follow the Gulf Stream feeding on jellyfish. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempi) turtles are also visitors to UK waters.|
|Ecology||A strictly marine species. Males never leave the water once they enter. Strong and fast swimmers. Undertake long journeys (some are known to cross the Atlantic). Deepest-diving turtle. Can reach depths of over 1 km. Primarily feed on jellyfish. Mating takes place in water and nesting occurs between February and August depending on location. Females haul themselves on to beaches in the tropics to dig holes in the sand, in which they deposit 80-130 eggs. Nest several times throughout breeding season. Eggs incubate for 50 to 75 days. Hatchlings emerge from sand and immediately head towards the sea.|
|Predators and other threats||Many hatchlings are lost to predators. Adults turtles are prey for very large marine predators such as orcas and some shark species. They are classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. Primary threats include fishing, erosion of nesting beaches, pollution and litter (intake and suffocation as a result of litter in the oceans), and predation by people such as egg harvesting and illegal trade.|