Giant Leatherback turtles return to UK waters

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It's hoped that 2011 will be a bumper year for Leatherback turtles off the coast of the UK.

The Marine Conservation Society (M.C.S.) is asking the public to report any sightings of the huge turtles during August which is typically the peak period to see them in British waters.

Summer sees them return to their feeding grounds off the UK after nesting in the Caribbean and it's anticipated that the plentiful supply of jellyfish this year, which make up the majority of their diet, will attract these gentle giants in larger than usual numbers.

2011 has already seen 16 turtles sightings reported, with over a quarter of these being off the Cornish coast and this early influx has led to hopes of the yearly average of around 20 being easily surpassed.

Dermochelys coriacea is the world's largest turtle species with the record specimen discovered on a beach in west Wales weighing in at 916kg/2,020lb and measuring over 3m/9.8'.

They are the most widely distributed of turtles due in part to the adults' ability to maintain their core temperature at up to 18°C above that of the surrounding sea, but sadly are in decline worldwide with many dying of intestinal blockages after mistakenly swallowing plastic bags which resemble their jellyfish prey.

Other population pressures include pollution, harvesting of eggs and drowning from entanglement in fishing nets.

The Atlantic is considered their last stronghold through a combination of factors – nesting sites are better protected than in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while ironically the decimation of tuna stocks has meant the removal of a significant predator of young turtles and the increase in jellyfish numbers also linked to overfishing has seen increased abundance of their preferred food.

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