There are seven species of sea turtles in the world and three varieties that call St Lucia home when it’s nesting time. These beautiful majestic creatures face numerous threats and are now endangered species. You may get a glimpse of the turtles if you’re visiting Coconut Bay in the right season (March 1 – November 30), but it’s important to understand their delicate nesting process to ensure that your visit helps rather than harms them.
The Struggle of the Sea Turtle
Though sea turtles freely roam the oceans of the world for most of the year, they always return to their own nesting grounds. The journey to this area can span over 1,000 miles, but the sea turtle is insistent on laying its eggs in the spot where it was born.
Sea turtles face numerous threats and man-made hazards during the course of their sometimes short lives. They can get tangled in ocean debris or commercial fishing nets. In certain parts of the world, they fall prey to hunters.
Habitat loss has robbed them of nesting beaches. Climate change has resulted in warmer sand and produces more females than males, unbalancing turtle breeding activities. The turtles that are able to hatch successfully can become easy prey for predators. Meanwhile, artificial lighting leads them away from, rather than into, the water. All of these challenges collectively make restoring the sea turtle population a big job.
It is important to have the proper conservation efforts in place for sea turtles, especially in places like St Lucia, where they make a regular pilgrimage. With help from the Nature Conservancy’s Eastern Caribbean Marine Managed Area Network (ECMMAN), Coconut Bay is working to boost the turtle population and keep these creatures safe.
Meet St Lucia’s Sea Turtles
The three turtle species that call St Lucia home are all endangered. Their declining populations make it even more important that we take active steps to help their nesting process.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles
The hawksbill turtle is named for one of its most distinctive characteristics. It has a narrow head and hawk-like beak that set it apart from other species. The turtle’s shell measures between 71 and 89 centimetres, and it weighs 46 to 70 kilograms. This species prefers a habitat with coastal reefs and rocky lagoons.
Hawksbill turtles nest every two to four years and do so three to six times each season. Their nests contain an average of 160 eggs which incubate for 60 days. In St Lucia, the hawksbill turtle’s peak nesting season is from May to October. This is a critically endangered species with just 20,000 to 23,000 nesting females left.
Green Sea Turtles
While most sea turtles have two pairs prefrontal scales, the green turtle has just one pair of scales in front of its eyes. It’s named for the colour of the fat beneath its shell and not the shell itself. Green turtles range from bright yellow to deep green and may even have brown and green stripes. The green turtle’s shell ranges from 83 to 114 centimetres in length and it can weigh 110 to 190 kilograms.
Green turtles prefer bays and protected shores for their homes. They nest every two years, three to five times a season. There’s an average of 115 eggs in each nest which incubate for 60 days. There are between 85,000 and 90,000 nesting females left. Green turtles nest in St Lucia from April to September.
Leatherback Sea Turtles
Leatherback turtles have a leathery appearance caused by the rubbery skin that covers its shell. Most are between 130 and 183 centimetres and weigh 300 to 500 kilograms. They feed primarily on jellyfish and roam the open waters in search of good feeding grounds.
Leatherback turtles can nest yearly though most do so every two to three years. They nest four to seven times each season, laying about 110 eggs in each nest. The eggs incubate for 65 days. Leatherbacks are the only species that may change nesting beaches. There are only 34,000 to 36,000 nesting females left. They’re found in St Lucia from March to August.
Tips for St Lucia Sea Turtle Lovers
It’s only natural to want to be a part of the miracle of sea turtle nesting, but it’s important to keep your distance. Getting involved too closely can harm the delicate hatchlings.
- Please remove all trash and personal items from the beach. Litter poses a serious threat to sea turtles, particularly leatherbacks who mistake plastic for jellyfish.
- Keep all lighting away from the beach. ECMANN will mark nests and remove disturbances from their vicinity, but it’s important that guests do their part by keep flashlights or other hazards away as well.
- Turn off your camera’s flash. Sea turtles are very sensitive to light. A flash photo could cause a nesting mother to leave without laying her eggs, or disrupt the hatching process.
- Do not handle hatchlings. Allow knowledgeable ECMANN members to assist the hatchlings if needed.
The Coconut Bay Sea Turtle Experience
If you happen to be visiting Coconut Bay during nesting season, you may witness the beautiful hatching and release process. You will notice the marked nests on our beach and may watch daytime hatches from a respectful distance.
In 2016, Coconut Bay will add a new program to the CocoLand Kidz Klub schedule to help young guests learn more about turtles and their nesting practices. It will educate children on the species that call St. Lucia home and what they can do to help the turtle population grow.
If you want a chance to see sea turtle hatchings in person, mark your calendar for peak nesting months and plan your next Coconut Bay holiday to coincide with these exciting nature events.
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