Sunday 26 May 2019

Endangered rare species discovered on Irish beach is world's smallest sea turtle

Coastwatch volunteer found the dead turtle swept up on rocks in Donegal

Credit: Aoife Flynn
Credit: Aoife Flynn
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

An Irish environmental society has called on seaside walkers to "keep their eyes open" for turtles washed up on our beaches.

The appeal comes after a volunteer from Coastguard Ireland found a foot long marine turtle on Christmas Day.

Aoife Flynn called the Coastwatch HQ at Trinity College in Dublin after the rare find of Kemp's ridley on the rocks of Rossnowlagh beach in Donegal.

As their offices were closed over the festive season, Aoife carefully photographed the reptile and then put the animal into her deep freeze until an autopsy could be carried out to determine the exact species and cause of death.

Coastwatch coordinator Karin Dubsky said that the volunteer's immediate reactions were "the best to do" at the time.

The Kemp's ridley turtle has been established as the world's most endangered sea turtle by National Geographic.

Autopsy Credit: Mark Daly
Autopsy Credit: Mark Daly

They are also among the smallest sea turtles, reaching only about 2 feet in shell length and weighing up to 100 pounds.

Primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, this unusual find in Ireland follows the discovery of three Kemp's ridley turtles in the UK in the last month alone.

"We would encourage those out walking on the beach to keep their eyes open. If a turtle or the remains of one are found, please contact Coastwatch and the National Parks and Wildlife Service".

Some experts recommend that the turtles should be presumed alive when found due a phenomenon called "cold stunning".

“As ectotherms the turtles body temperature is strongly linked to sea temperatures," explained Dr Trish Murphy, herpetologist and Coastwatch regional coordinator, who performed the autopsy on the animal.

"If water temperatures drop suddenly the turtle will become lethargic and will float on ocean currents, unable to use their muscles effectively." 

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