How to.... help our turtles

Our turtles?

Yes, three species of marine turtle include Cornish waters as part of their natural range, travelling thousands of miles from their tropical breeding areas to feed in colder seas. The first step we can take towards conserving these globally endangered creatures is to recognise that they are part of Cornwall s wildlife.

The leatherback - which grows to over two metres in length - is the typical ╩Cornish╦ turtle, while the loggerhead and Kemp s ridley are seen more rarely. Two particular dangers facing them in the South-West are entanglement in fishing gear and blockage of the gut by floating rubbish which they mistake for food.


We need much more information on our turtles. Please give full details of any you see to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, including location, size, colour, date and time. Try to identify them using the descriptions here. Old records are just as welcome, and dead turtles can be extremely valuable to conservationists in their research - particularly if we can collect them while still fresh.


If you are in a position to rescue an entangled turtle, the main thing to remember is that they need to breathe air. When they are distressed, they cannot remain submerged for as long as they do normally. Keep the animal s head above water, and release it at sea. A beached turtle can be dragged carefully (by its shell) to the water if uninjured - otherwise you should call a vet (and the Trust). Pour on sea water to lubricate its eyes, and never put a turtle on its back.


We can all do something to help turtles if we think about the problems they face. For a start, we can take our plastic and other non-biodegradable rubbish home rather than leaving it on the beach or in the sea - and why not fill a bag with other people s rubbish at the same time?! A letter to your MP asking him or her to promote more wildlife-friendly fishing methods is another approach. Think about turtles when you take foreign holidays as well: many beaches on Cyprus and other Mediterranean islands, for instance, are used by turtles for nesting; if you patronise hotels or time-shares built too close to those beaches, you will add to the disturbance they suffer.

Kemp's ridley turtle
Kemp's ridley turtle
Lepidochelys kempii
Length up to 0.7m but usually juveniles (0.3-0.5m) reach our shores.
Colour:grey or olive green.
Distinctive features: shell width equal to or greater than shell length.

Loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta
Loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta
Length up to 1.5m but usually juveniles (0.3-0.5m) reach our shores.
Colour:reddish brown.
Distinctive features: younsters have pointed knobs along spine of shell.

Leatherback or leathery turtle
Leatherback or leathery turtle
Dermochelys coriacea
Colour:black, spotted with white.
Distinctive features: pronounced longitudinal ridges on shell. Most common species in south West waters.

Follow the Turtle Code

The Cornwall Wildlife Trust has prepared a Cornish Turtle Code, for users and watchers of the sea, which gives more detailed advice. Call the Trust for your free copy. This guide has been written by Mark Nicholson, Education Officer of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. For further information, call the Trust on (01872) 273939.

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