HEARTBREAKING photos show a rare leatherback turtle off the coast of Scotland that became the latest victim of man-made debris clogging the seas.
The critically endangered animal was snapped after it became tangled in fishing gear off the coast of Orkney at the weekend.
The huge turtle, which is typically found in tropical climates where it nests, was eventually saved by two kind-hearted fisherman.
Leatherbacks are the world’s biggest turtle and are critically endangered largely due to poaching for eggs, snaring in fishing gear and pollution.
Glen Tait and his boss George Peace were on board the vessel near Shapinsay on Sunday when they spotted the creature – the first sighting of a live leatherback in Scotland for three years.
At first they thought was just a rubber matt. However, after drawing closer to the animal they realised it was a leatherback.
Glen, 28, began cutting the animal free from the fishing gear but it began to swim away before he finished, dragging the orange buoy behind.
Trying to keep the boat from hitting the turtle, George managed to catch up with the creature as his colleague finally freed it.
A series of photos taken by Glen show the large animal on the surface of the water trying to swim, but clearly caught in rope around a fishing buoy.
Speaking about the encounter, Glen said: “We just seen it kind of looked like an old rubber matt.
“The closer we got, it was weird, it was moving, we never realised it was a turtle. It’s strange to see something like that in Orkney.
“It was just me and my boss at the turtle, he was trying not to hit it because we were in a tidal place.
“We got close enough to cut the rope but it swam away with the buoy still attached so we had to quickly get to it. It was difficult.
“It was about 5ft long and looked a bit battered. I couldn’t believe how big it actually was.
“We freed it and let it on its way.”
Posting the images on the rescue online, Glen added: “A very rare sight you see one but we rescued it today and untangle it from a endline.”
Commenting on the post, social media users commended the fisherman for saving the leatherback.
Pat Hourie-Garrow said: “Wow a once in a lifetime. Well done.”
Jan Bevington wrote: “Wonderful work Glen Tait.”
Marlene Rorie commented: “Good on you lads.”
The huge turtle can typically grow between 1m and 2m (3-6ft) long, and can weigh up to three-quarters of a tonne.
Whilst they can swim across entire oceans, they will return to their ancestral nesting sites to breed every few years – normally in the southern oceans.
The last confirmed sighting of a live leatherback in Scotland was reportedly in 2014 by anglers near St Kilda and the Isle of Harris.
However, two dead leatherbacks were found washed up earlier this year with one being found on the isle of Vatersay and the other off the coast of Arbroath, Angus. The causes of death were never established.
The amount of plastic in the worlds oceans is killing wildlife and damaging habitats.
Every year up to 13 million tonnes of it finding its way to the sea with scientists predicting that the amount of plastic in the sea could outweigh fish by 2050.
A study by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, Germany, revealed that 90% of plastic waste entering the oceans comes from just 10 rivers.
Last week a United Nations resolution called for greater action “to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds” by 2025.