International Turtle Day

Name Leatherback Turtle
Scientific Name Dermochely scoriacea
Irish Name Turtar droimleathair

Four Fun facts about leatherback turtles that you probably didn’t know!

  1. They can dive to depths of up to 1,280 metres! (deeper than any other turtle)
  2. They can stay at these depths for up to 85 minutes
  3. They live in both the Pacific and Atlantic ocean (the Irish population breed in the Southern Caribbean)
  4. They nest in the tropics and migrate to cooler waters in the summer
Leatherback Turtle – Cost of Cork, Ireland – 2018 Pic by Aidan Stafford

How long do they live for?

It’s not exactly known how long leatherback turtles live for, although it has been estimated that they do live for more than 30 years.  

Why do we see them in Ireland? Isn’t Ireland too cold? 

Leatherback turtles ate the most widely distributed reptile species in the world! They nest in the tropics and then travel to cooler temperate waters in the hunt for jellyfish, their main prey (6,000 km from where they laid their eggs!). 

 

 

How many eggs do they lay?

Baby Leatherback Turtle

Females produce about 80 eggs at any one time. The Irish population of leatherback turtles lay their egg in the southern Caribbean, they dig holes in the beaches and cover the eggs up with sand when its all done! Amazingly the gender of the eggs depends on the temperature of the nest, if the nest is 29.5 degrees Celsius then the offspring will be a mix of males and females. If the temperatures of the nest are higher, more females will be produced and vice versa!  

Where can we see them?

Usually they are only seen by fishermen out at sea, when they have become entangled in fishing lines and ghost nets (nets which have been discarded and entrap many marine species). 

Why are they different from other turtles?

Leather back turtles are large and can grow up to and above 900 kg! Usually reptiles need to bask in the sun to gain heat in order to feed and go about their day, but leather back turtles are different. They are specially adapted to maintain their body heat in temperate waters, they do this by their thick layer of body fat, large size and changes in blood flow throughout the body!

Are they endangered? 

Yes. Sadly the leather back turtle are currently classed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN red list as of the 17th of May 2020. 

What are their threats?

Their main threats are through by-catch (being caught in fishing line meant for other species), the exploitation of breeding sites and consumption of marine plastics. 

How can we help them?

You can help marine wildlife like leatherback turtles by;

  • Refuse, Reducing, Reusing, Repairing and Recycle
  • Report any sightings of marine wildlife to the National Biodiversity Data Centre

 

Written by Luke Myers

 

For more information on Ireland’s leatherback turtles see:

https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM32.pdf,
Sarti Martinez, A.L. (Marine Turtle Specialist Group). 2000. Dermochelys coriaceaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2000: e.T6494A12784317. Downloaded on 17 May 2020.
And 
http://www.habitas.org.uk/priority/species.asp?item=5068

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Photos : David J Sullivan, Isobel Abbott, unless specified otherwise