Turtles in Scotland
Although they are often considered to be tropical animals, five of the seven species of Marine Turtles have been sighted in the waters surrounding the UK. Four of these; leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea, loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta, Kemp’s ridley turtle Lepidochelys kempii and green turtle Chemoia mydas; have all been recorded in Scottish Waters. While the loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley and green tend to end up in this part of the world as strays; the highly endangered leatherback turtle is believed to regularly visit Scotland to feed on the abundant jellyfish. It has been shown that leatherbacks nest on tropical beaches and travel thousands of kilometres to get here, but in Scottish waters their ecology and behaviour is largely unknown.
Globally, turtles are under threat from poachers harvesting their meat and eggs, destruction of their habitat mainly by tourist development, boat collisions, incidental capture by fishing nets and pollution. All four of the species sighted in Scottish waters are protected under both European and UK law, in an effort to curb the decline of these species due to intentional or reckless actions. The UK BAP has created the Grouped Species Action Plan for Marine Turtles in UK waters and the UK Overseas Territories to focus and direct conservation actions, which are then implemented by a partnership of organizations known as the Turtle Implementation Group (TIG).
The UK Turtle Code has been developed to highlight marine turtle presence in UK waters and detail instructions on how to identify different species, report sightings and what to do if you encounter a stranded animal.
Get involved and find out more…
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is one of the groups involved in the TIG and in an effort to promote awareness about Scottish marine turtle populations, they are traveling throughout Scotland with the Scottish Turtle Roadshow (find out more by clicking here). The final leg of this tour kicks off in Buckie on Monday 29th August and runs till Friday 2nd September. Click here for details of the Scottish Turtle Roadshow events
Did you know…?
- The scientific name for leatherback turtles is Dermochelys coriacea
- It is the largest turtle in the world and can be 1.8m in length and weigh 0.5 tonnes.
- Lays its eggs on beaches in the tropics, but travels thousands of kilometers to UK waters.
- Is called Leatherback due the leathery nature of its shell, which has seven ridges.
- Can dive up to 1200m deep.
- Feeds mainly on jellyfish, which can lead to problems because of pollution. Often mistakes plastic bags for jellyfish.
- Is classified as critically endangered.