Endangered Leatherback Turtles Drawn to UK Jellyfish Blooms
Photo credit: BizoSilva/Creative Commons
Critically endangered leatherback turtles spend most of their lives at sea with one notable exception: Female turtles crawl onto beaches in the hundreds and even thousands to dig nests and lay their eggs.
Outside of the common nesting sites—mostly along the coasts of South America, the Caribbean, and central Africa—leatherback turtles have been spotted as far north as the Newfoundland and Labrador but sightings across the Atlantic, off the coast of Scotland, have been nearly unheard of—until recently.
Photo credit: Jaymi Heimbuch/Creative Commons
For several years, the once rare occurrence has become increasingly common: Leatherback turtles swimming through blooms of jellyfish just off the shore of popular beaches. Though researchers acknowledge that the turtles often migrated to the deep northern waters farther to sea, they also say that coming close enough to land for people to spot them is an anomaly.
Prior to 2002, it is believed that only three leartherback turtles had been spotted in the area in more than 150 years.
Since then, however, large blooms of jellyfish have become more common off the coast of the UK. Though jellyfish have few natural predators—making these blooms worrying and problematic for local ecosystems—leatherback sea turtles are one.
The silver lining, then, to climate change-induced jellyfish blooms may be a healthier Atlantic leatherback population—as long as efforts continue to protect the turtles' fragile nesting sites.
Read more about leatherback turtles:
Plastic Found in 1/3 of Leatherback Turtles, According to Study
Tens of Thousands of Leatherback Turtles Nest on Gabonese Coast
Increasing Number of Leatherback Turtle Nests Not All Good News