MarLIN

information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.

Summary

Description

The leatherback is the world's largest sea turtle, it has a carapace (shell) up to 2 m in length and can weigh a total of 0.5 tonnes. Characteristic features are a blackish leathery shell with 7 longitudinal ridges along the back, three of which are clearly visible when the animal is swimming at the surface. The skin is also black and relatively smooth with pale spotting. The leatherback is warm-blooded (endothermic), maintaining a body temperature of around 25 °C, which is unusual as most reptiles are cold-blooded (ectotherms).

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Present mostly in August and September off the south and west coasts of Britain and Ireland. Also recorded off Shetland, the Firth of Forth and Humberside.

Global distribution

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Habitat

This species generally inhabits open seas and is capable of diving to 1200 m.

Depth range

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Identifying features

  • Up to 2 m in length, weighs up to 0.5 tonnes.
  • 7 ridges along back.
  • Blackish leathery shell, with pale spotting under skin.

Additional information

The leatherback is the sole living representative of the family Dermochelyidae. It is clear that the leatherbacks extensive migrations to British waters are to follow swarms of jellyfish which are the leatherbacks main prey item. Breeding occurs in shallow tropical waters, although female leatherbacks will come high up on the shore to deposit their eggs. Populations of leatherbacks are in serious decline due to a number of factors. These include loss of nesting habitats, destruction of nests by poachers, propeller wounds, interaction with commercial fisheries and ingestion of marine debris.

Dermochelys coriacea is listed as Critically endangered on the Red list of Threatened animals 2000 and, therefore, considered to be of extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future. It is listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is addressed under a marine turtles Species Action Plan. Dermochelys coriacia is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) 1975, Appendix II of the Bern Convention 1979, Appendices I and II of the Bonn Convention 1979 and Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive. The loggerhead is also listed as a priority species on Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive. All five species are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 1994 (Anon, 1999(ii)).

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Further information sources

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Bibliography

  1. Anonymous, 1999ii. Marine turtles. Grouped Species Action Plan http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPlans.aspx?ID=335, 2001-07-09

  2. Bustard, R., 1972. Sea turtles, their natural history and conservation. London: Collins.

  3. CRESLI (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island), 2001. The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coracia) http://www.cresli.org/cresli, 2001-06-19

  4. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  5. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from: http://www.nbnatlas.org.  Accessed 01 April 2017

Citation

This review can be cited as:

Reeds, K.A. 2004. Dermochelys coriacea Leatherback turtle. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Available from: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/1534

Last Updated: 13/07/2004