Rare Turtle Found on St. Mary’s

On February 10th 1999 local resident Terry Ward picked up a Turtle on Porthloo beach, St Mary’s and handed it to the Isles of Scilly Environmental Trust. It was identified as a Loggerhead utilising the scant literature at hand, and was then set aside for disposal as the local museum already had a specimen. Two days later Martin Scott took possession of the specimen to try and find it a new home rather than the dump! It was at this stage that the first queries were raised as to its identity, but reference material was hard to come by. A photograph in Lee Evans Rare Birds magazine (Vol. 3:268-269) hinted at Kemp’s Ridley, but further research was obviously needed.

The shell (carapace) shape suggested Kemp’s Ridley, but as the species is a gross rarity – only nine records in the south west, with none in Britain since 1969 – it seemed even less likely. It was also an immature, which further complicated the identification process. Details were sought by MSS and Ren Hathway, who was now in possession of the body. Upon contacting the Natural History Museum, and receipt of R.D. Penhallurick’s excellent "Turtles of Cornwall, The Isles of Scilly and Devonshire", the identity was confirmed as Kemp’s Ridley. The subtle pointers being more oval, rather than heart shaped shell, different spinal plate pattern, larger inframandibular scales to the lower jaw of Kemp’s Ridley, pattern of the forehead plates and poreholes on the inframarginal scutes on the underside. The original identification was also led astray by the comment that Loggerhead shows a ‘knobbled’ spine. This specimen showed slight lumps, but when references were obtained it was clear they were dissimilar to the almost ‘Stegasaurus – type’ protrusion of young Loggerhead.

Kemp’s Ridley is grossly endangered, as are all turtles, breeding only known from the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Texas and Grand Cayman. The latter two as a result of successful reintroduction projects. Numbers have reportedly picked up slightly in recent years following a devastating decline to a few hundred pairs in 1975 (Penhallurick 1990). As far as we are aware there are no British records in the last 32 years. All known south west records are listed:

1. 1913: Nov. 11th, Malpass, Cornwall
2. 1925: Date unknown, Isles of Scilly
3. 1938: Dec. 30th, Portreath, Cornwall
4. 1930’s: Specimen in St. Ives Museum, Cornwall
5. 1943: Jan. 3rd, Polzeath, Cornwall
6. 1947: Nov. 10th, Newlyn, Cornwall
7. 1949: Dec. 17th, Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall
8. 1967: Nov. 26th, Woolacombe Sand, Morte Bay, Devon
9. 1969: Feb. 5th, Perranporth, Cornwall

A rubber cast has been taken of the specimen, and it has now been sent to the British Museum of Natural History, London, where it will be preserved in the spirit collection.

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