Five of the world’s seven turtle species have been seen in the sea around the UK and Ireland. They nest on tropical beaches and feed mainly on jellyfish which are usually found in tropical and temperate waters. Being reptiles (like snakes and lizards) they’re not able to control their own body temperature so most of them find the waters around Cornwall too cold. They are usually seen in late summer and autumn when the sea’s at its warmest. Adult leatherback turtles are the ones most likely to be seen because they are the largest and more able to control their temperature. They are black with white spots and have obvious ridges running down their back.

Actions that scare, startle or panic:

  • Getting too close

How to tell you’ve been spotted:

  • It’s not that easy to see turtles until you’re fairly close to them and as soon as you get too close they will dive

It’s too late and definitely time to move away if:

  • Turtle dives

Tips to avoid disturbing turtles;
Follow the general guidelines and in particular:

  • In late summer and autumn, if you see large numbers of jellyfish, keep an extra lookout for turtles.

How disturbance affects them:

  • Turtle numbers are already in decline so they need extra care. We are most likely to see them when they’ve followed an influx of jellyfish so any disturbance is likely to use up vital energy and stop them from feeding or resting
  • They are also at risk from marine litter, especially plastic bags and fishing gear that they can get caught in. They mistakenly eat plastic bags, probably because they look like jellyfish, and once swallowed, plastic bags block their digestive system.


MAIN PHOTO: copyright Wildlife Trusts