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Caretta caretta (Linnaeus, 1758)
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.
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.
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.
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.
The estimated worldwide population of nesting female loggerhead turtles is 60,000.
Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?
Threats/Causes of decline
Conservation of this species
Loggerhead turtles are included in the UK Grouped Species Action Plan for marine turtles, which was published in 1999.
What you can do
To report loggerhead turtle sightings to CEDaR, Telephone 028 9039 5264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marine turtles in Irish waters by Gabriel L. King and Simon D. Berrow Irish Naturalistsí Journal Special Supplement 2009
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