People can dip into the underwater world of the rare green sea turtle at Sea Life Blackpool, as one of its oldest and most beautiful residents returns to her ‘childhood’ home.
Lulu the green sea turtle shows no signs of slowing down at the grand old age of 79, and she’s not shy about getting up close with guests who dare to take a dip in the tank she shares with fish and sharks alike.
I had the privilege of becoming one of the first guests to meet face-to-face with this remarkable creature through the green net walls of the diving cage lowered carefully into her tank.
Green sea turtles, with their small heads, almond eyes and dark skin segmented by white trails like water on a window pane, measure up to five feet in length and can weigh up to 700lbs.
Their grace in the water belies their incredible strength.
Lulu is curious about the diving cage, and her chewing of the netting with her blunt beak causes the metal frame to clang against the side of the pool.
I am warned against putting my fingers outside the net should she mistake them for a tasty snack, but laid-back Lulu doesn’t even bat an eyelid when she brushes past me with flippers as hard as stone.
The gentle giant was a favourite among children and visitors to The Blackpool Tower aquarium where she once lived.
She left the aquarium in 2003 after becoming too big for the tank, and spent 15 years at Sea Life Brighton.
Matthew Titherington, general manager at Sea Life Blackpool, said: “Many parents and grandparents from across the region will remember Lulu, the giant sea turtle.
“We’re delighted that Lulu is returning to Blackpool. She is an extremely popular and remarkable creature. I know guests will enjoy learning more about Lulu and turtle conservation and, for many older visitors, to be able to see her again and share the experience with children and grandchildren.”
In another life, far from Blackpool’s salty Irish Sea waters, Lulu might have swam more than 1,500 miles to lay eggs in the warm white sands of Hawaii or Trinidad.
Females lay between 100 and 200 eggs at a time. But it is estimated only one in every 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
In the wild, green sea turtles are endangered.
Vulnerable youngsters frantically scampering from the nest to the sea are easy pickings for hungry birds.
Adults are killed by boat propellers, drowned by fishing nets, and hunted for their prized meat.
Sunny nesting grounds are destroyed by land developments for raking in tourists’ cash.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the creatures as endangered since 1982. In 2004, it was determined that wild green sea turtles faced a high risk of extinction due to a 50 per cent fall in their population.
Scott Blacker, head aquarist at Sea Life Blackpool, said: “Despite laws protecting sea turtles in most countries, (threats) include being hunted for their eggs, meat and shells, a legal practice in many parts of the world where they are considered a delicacy.
“Plastic pollution is another increasing threat, as Sir David Attenborough highlighted on Blue Planet II, posing a massive risk to oceans and marine life.
“Green sea turtles are also threatened by destruction of their nesting and foraging areas, as well as becoming entangled in commercial and industrial fishing nets.”
These problems, while life-threatening for green sea turtles in the wild, are tragedies Lulu will never know.
She is surprisingly affectionate with humans and doesn’t seem to mind showing off her shell for the camera.
But the struggles of her brothers and sisters will not be overlooked, as Sea Life Blackpool is now working with the Sea Life Trust to develop and support conservation projects as part of its‘breed, rescue, protect’ campaign.
More than 6,600 turtles have been rescued and rehabilitated due to the projects.
Scott said: “Our new Turtle Rescue area will show conservation initiatives which are taking place around the world and how everyone can help to protect turtles and other marine life. For example, by reducing their use of plastic, such as straws and cups.
“Blue Planet II really drew everyone’s attention to the massive problem of plastic pollution and the critical impact it has on our oceans and marine life.”