Updated: Mar 24
This week, a Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), was found washed up in Essex. When I first read this, my mouth dropped wide open. Here, we give you a quick run-down on why we found this news to be such a shock.
Leatherbacks are one of the largest reptiles in the world and are the largest of the world’s seven species of sea turtle, weighing anywhere up to 900kg. Their enormity is often only really revealed when they’re pictured next to humans…and my word they. are. huge.
One of my favourite facts about turtles is that in some form or the other, they’ve existed on our planet for over 100 million years, explanation for their nickname as “modern-day dinosaurs”. This is why I find it all the more devastating that many species of turtle feature on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature list, ranging from a status of vulnerable to critically endangered.
Although you might associate sea turtles with warm, sandy, tropical beaches (you’d be correct… this is where the females go to lay their eggs), you might be surprised to learn that Leatherbacks feed and forage in much colder waters, including those around Canada and the Canadian Arctic, northern Europe and New Zealand, areas that abundant in their primary food source - jellyfish.
Now, there have been other sightings of Leatherbacks around the UK this summer, including in Gower, Swansea and Falmouth Bay, both back in August. The Wildlife Trust explains that these sightings of Leatherbacks are rare, with the best chances occurring in the summer months and along the western coast. In fact, the largest Leatherback ever recorded was also found washed up on a beach, this time in North Wales, back in 1988. They’re “very rarely” spotted anywhere else in UK seas and almost never along the East coast – hence our reaction to the story.
For decades, scientists have warned of the impact of the climate crisis on the behaviour of animals. As a user of both marine and terrestrial habitats for feeding, foraging, nesting and so on, climate change is likely to have a devastating impact on our turtle friends.
We should use this highly unusual occurrence in Essex as a reminder that the climate and biodiversity crisis is having observable and devastating effects on all of those who call our planet "home".