Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Caretta caretta – loggerhead turtle

 

Distribution map

Click here to view an interactive map of the Northern Ireland dataset as currently collated by CEDaR.
The map is generated through the NBN Gateway using their Interactive Mapping Tool.

 

Caretta caretta (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Cheloniidae

Loggerhead turtles are found in temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. They are also the most common sea turtle in the Mediterranean. Every year, many sea turtles drown, having been accidentally trapped in fishing nets and lines. Like whales and dolphins, sea turtles need to come to the surface to breathe. Loss of nesting sites, due to building and development on tropical beaches, is also a huge threat to sea turtle populations.

In brief

  • Very rare in Northern Ireland waters
  • Endangered worldwide
  • Listed as a UK Priority species
  • Main threats to the population are accidental capture in fishing gear and loss of nesting sites

Species description
The loggerhead turtle grows to about 90cm long. The back is covered by a strong, reddish-brown, heart-shaped shell (carapace) that is often encrusted with barnacles and other small marine invertebrates. The shell (plastron) on the underside of the body is yellowish-brown. The head is large with powerful jaws. The flippers are reddish-brown on top and yellowish brown on the underside.

Life cycle
Loggerhead turtles eat molluscs, crabs, sponges and sea urchins - mostly animals that live on the sea bed; they will also take jellyfish. Female turtles travel thousands of miles to lay their eggs on the beaches where they themselves hatched. They can breed every two years and lay eggs 3-5 times in one nesting season. Each time the female comes ashore, she digs a hole in dry sand with her flippers and lays 40-190 eggs. Around 60 days later, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles return to the sea, where they must fend for themselves. Loggerhead turtles can live for over 50 years.

Similar species
The only other sea turtle recorded in Northern Ireland waters is the huge leatherback turtle. As their name suggests, leatherback turtles have a shell that is covered with black/dark grey leathery skin. Loggerhead turtles have an obvious hard shell, they are also much smaller; average body length is only 90cm, compared to a leatherback turtle that can grow to 3m long.

How to see this species
Although loggerhead turtles are extremely rare, it is possible to see them, anywhere along the coast of Northern Ireland, in the sea or washed up on the beach.

Current status
The estimated worldwide population of nesting female loggerhead turtles is 60,000.

  • Protected under schedule 5 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985
  • Listed in Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010
  • Listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention)
  • Listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (The Bonn Convention)
  • Listed in OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats
  • Listed in Annex II and IV (Animal and Plant Species of Community Interest in Need of Strict Protection) of the EC Habitats Directive
  • Listed in Appendix I of CITES

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Listed as a UK Priority species
  • Classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Threats/Causes of decline

  • Harvesting of sea turtle eggs and meat for consumption
  • Coastal development and disturbance/loss of nesting sites
  • Entanglement in fishing gear (by-catch)
  • Collisions with boats/propeller injuries
  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Wildlife trade/souvenirs

Conservation of this species

Current action
Loggerhead turtles are included in the UK Grouped Species Action Plan for marine turtles, which was published in 1999.

  • Records of all strandings and sightings of marine turtles in Northern Ireland are collated by CEDaR
  • A 'Turtle Code' advice sheet was produced by the Nature Conservancy Council in 1988, aimed at the fishing industry and providing advice on identification, legislation, record submission and dealing with entanglements
  • A review of marine turtle records in Northern Ireland was produced in 2007

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Avoid accidental harm to, and by-catch of, marine turtles when present in Northern Ireland waters
  • Contribute to international measures for the conservation of marine turtles

What you can do
To report loggerhead turtle sightings to CEDaR, Telephone 028 9039 5264 or email cedar.info@nmni.com.

Further information

Links
Grouped Species Action Plan for Marine Turtles

Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) UK priority species page

NBN Gateway

Review of marine turtle records in Northern Ireland

UK Turtle Code

Marinebio

ARKive

Literature
Marine turtles in Irish waters by Gabriel L. King and Simon D. Berrow Irish Naturalistsí Journal Special Supplement 2009

Text written by:
Angela Ross