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Leatherback turtles in the Channel?


As the Marine Conservation Society says on its websitewebsite, August is the peak month for leatherback turtle sightings in British and Irish waters. This world-travelling ocean giant is now widely regarded as a true native of these waters, given that it comes here deliberately to feed on jellyfish.

 

Most sightings around the British Isles are in the Irish Sea, where leatherbacks tend to congregate in the summer to feed on rich jellyfish blooms in hotspots such as off the coast of Southwest Wales. Leatherbacks travel much further north too, up the Scottish coast; but surely the most unusual sighting came recently from Southeast England.

In late July 2014 at Deal in Kent, a leatherback was seen swimming around groynes just offshore, apparently feeding on jellyfish. This shows that leatherbacks are travelling up the Channel, and may even travel up the east coast of England. This particular jellyfish was apparently seen several times, and of course there may be others.

So is there a chance I may see a leatherback from my cliff-top home in Bournemouth? I guess so, albeit a slim one. I spend time every day looking out of the window, scanning the horizon with binoculars, looking for cetaceans. Only once in two years have I seen dolphins from here, but I live in hope. And now with leatherbacks on the cards, my enthusiasm is rekindled. If the jellyfish come, maybe a leatherback will come..

The sea is particularly warm on the South Coast at the moment (getting on for 20°C), and this year seems to be a bumper year for jellyfish, given the national press coverage about them. In Bournemouth, the beach lifeguards say there have been lots of jellyfish reports recently; and on a recent trip to Scotland, I saw lots of washed-up jellyfish (lion's mane and moon I think) in the River Clyde at Gourock.

So back here in Bournemouth, I keep my daily vigil at home, binoculars in hand, watching and waiting for that elusive sighting.

MCS is encouraging us to record jellyfish sightings, and they have a useful colour ID guide to download herehere. And of course if you see a marine turtle or any of our other giant seasonal visitors like basking shark and ocean sunfish, do send in your recordssend in your records of those too.

Chris Gleed-Owen, CGO Ecology