Turtles stranded on British beaches after storms send them off course

Fifteen turtles have been stranded in the UK and Ireland since November, a high number attributed to stormy weather in the US and Caribbean


17 February 2023

A young turtle washed up in Cardigan Bay, Wales

Melvin Gray/naturepl.com

This winter has seen an increase in the number of turtles stranded on beaches across the UK and Ireland, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

Since November, a total of 15 turtles, including loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and a rare Kemp’s Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), have washed up on British shores. This is a much higher number than normal, with only four to six strandings usually recorded between November and February each year.

The MCS says the turtles were likely diverted from their native waters along the American and Caribbean coasts during storms and then carried on ocean currents across the Atlantic.

All the individuals have been relatively small youngsters who would have struggled to fight the strong winds and currents, according to MCS. Most were found stranded on beaches in south-west England, with the furthest north in Anglesey in North Wales.

The increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms, driven by climate change, may be a factor in the strandings, says Amy Pilsbury of MCS.

Late last year, Florida and the Bahamas were hit by Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole, which together caused billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure and property.

Only one turtle species, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), are suitable for cool British waters and can regularly be seen around British coasts during the summer months. But stranded species such as the loggerhead struggle to cope with colder temperatures.

While some of the turtles were found alive and have been rescued for rehabilitation, at least nine have died. “When they reach our water, they’re likely to go into cold water shock, because it’s out of their normal temperature range,” says Pilsbury.

MCS is urging the public to keep a watchful eye for turtles as more strandings may occur in the coming weeks. The sooner a turtle is rescued, the better its chances of survival.

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