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  NewsWales 3 Nov 06
Epic journey brings turtle to Welsh shores

A special turtle which was tagged by WWF marine experts in South America is nearing Welsh waters in search of food.

The leatherback turtle, called Aikanti, was tagged seventeen months ago and is just 194 miles off the English coast.

There is a very real possibility that she will swim into the Irish Sea in search of jellyfish because there are recognised hotspot feeding grounds off the coast of Wales - such as Carmarthen Bay.

Since she was tagged in Suriname with a satellite transmitter the turtle has swam over 11,500 kilometres across the Atlantic - the equivalent to a quarter of the way around the world. Her circuitous route has taken her to the coast of Africa, around the Azores and up through the Bay of Biscay.

They are the largest marine turtle species and the only turtle to have adapted to life in cold waters which possible explains why they can be spotted in Welsh waters.

Morgan Parry, Head of WWF Cymru, said: "When we tagged Aikanti over a year ago we never dared imagine that she would come to feed on our doorstep. There are recognised turtle feeding grounds off the Welsh coast in the Irish Sea. People still don't realise that there are exotic marine creatures the size of a cow regularly feeding off our coast."

In fact the largest leatherback turtle ever recorded was washed up on the coast of Wales, in Harlech, in 1988. It measured 10 feet from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail and weighed 2 ,019 pounds.

An autopsy revealed the turtle's gut was full of plastic. Pollution and marine litter was blamed but this is just one of the problems facing the turtles.

Thousands more are accidentally killed every year by certain types of fishing nets as they get tangled up and then drown.

This is why they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future and have international protected status.

WWF Cymru has been lobbying hard for better protection of our marine wildlife and environment but unfortunately indications from the government today have led WWF to conclude that the draft marine bill promised last year will not be included in the Queen's speech next Wednesday.

Morgan Parry continued: "After all its promises WWF Cymru is deeply disappointed that the government has failed on its own timetable for a Marine Bill. The government has a duty to protect Welsh waters with the marine bill, which was promised in the 2005 Queen's Speech. The fact that a turtle has travelled from South America to our coast highlights, that how we manage Welsh waters has an international impact on the wider oceans and their creatures."

For more information on the marine bill and to follow Aikanti's progress please visit the website at wwf.org.uk.

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