Saturday 19 June 2010

Have you seen a leatherback turtle off Dorset coast?

5:00pm Wednesday 16th June 2010
By Juliette Astrup

ENDANGERED turtles weighing up to a tonne could soon be spotted off the Dorset coast, conservation experts have said.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is urging people to keep a look out for leatherback turtles this summer – then log their sightings to build up a picture of their movements.

These critically endangered reptiles migrate from the tropics to UK seas each summer to gobble up large blooms of jellyfish off the coast.

According to MCS records they are regularly sported off Devon and Cornwall – but there have been no confirmed sightings off Dorset since 2004, so residents are being asked to keep their eyes peeled.

Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, said: “It’s more than likely that they’re out there off Dorset – but they haven’t been reported.”

He added: “Leatherbacks are amazing creatures, the biggest of the turtles growing up to a couple of metres in length and weighing up to a tonne – about the same as small car.

“But what makes them really special and unlike any other reptile is the fact that they can maintain their own body heat, even in our chilly seas.”

Leatherbacks are fighting for survival against habitat destruction and disturbance of their tropical nesting beaches.

They can get entangled and drown in fishing gear and die from starvation when they eat plastic litter, which they mistake for jellyfish, blocking up their digestive system. Small numbers wash up dead around the UK each year.

Mr Richardson encouraged people to reported turtle sightings, be they dead or alive.

“The more UK turtle sightings we hear about, the better our understanding will be of these fascinating creatures, and the more we will know about how to make sure they are safe when they visit our seas,” he added.

Log sightings at and or by calling 01348 875000.

• Live stranded turtles should not be returned to the sea but should be reported immediately to the RSPCA on 0300 1234999.
(Submitted by Mark North)

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