Caribbean Turtles – Turtle Watching – Turtle Conservation
Where to watch Caribbean turtles nesting
In the Caribbean and Central America, there are really exciting opportunities to see Caribbean turtles nesting, including the critically endangered Leatherback turtle. Older children will find joining night-time turtle patrols quite an adventure. It’s not only adults that have a fascination for these gentle creatures – considered by some as being the last living dinosaur in the world. Young children might find the very late night plus lots of walking just too much.
There are seven varieties of turtles in the world. Mexico boasts six of the world’s seven species that nest along its coastline, and the Caribbean turtles number four varieties – the Hawksbill turtle, Leatherback turtle, Loggerhead turtle and Green turtle. It is thought that only one in 1,000 will survive to adulthood. Giant Leatherbacks can dive as deep as 4,000ft (1.2 meters) and stay under water for up to one hour.
Visitors to a number of islands can join Caribbean turtles patrols every night during the turtle nesting season, and some tour operators will collect you from and return you to your hotel while others have specific pick up points. Tours vary but generally take place from around 8pm to midnight. Expect a lot of walking on soft sand so wear sensible footwear and something warm – night-time breezes off the sea can be quite cool. Trousers are best to wear, and it is wise to take a fleece or sweater with you as well as waterproofs for those sudden Caribbean downpours.
WHERE TO ENJOY A CARIBBEAN TURTLES WATCHING ADVENTURE
COSTA RICA: Between March and June is the time to see giant leatherback turtles nesting, and Tortuguero is the spot which is located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. These leatherback turtles can weigh as much as 600 kilograms – that’s 1,323 pounds! They can measure up to around 6.5ft in length (2 metres).
DOMINICA: Between March and August is when you can go Caribbean turtles watching in Dominica when Leatherbacks, Hawksbills and Green turtles arrive to nest. The west coast beaches are where you will find Greens and Hawksbills between May and October. Hire a trained turtle guide to discover everything about the turtles that nest in Dominica.
GRENADA: The turtle watching nesting season in Grenada is from the beginning of April to the end of June. During this period Grenada hosts four turtle varieties: the Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green turtle. During the peak time of the turtle watching season there is a very high chance of sighting turtles, obviously not so high at the beginning or end of the season.
MEXICO, Yucatan Peninsula (Riviera Maya): With thousands of miles of coastline, Mexico boasts being host to six out of the world’s seven turtle species during nesting season. One of the two important nesting areas is on the Caribbean side/Gulf of Mexico – the other is on the Pacific side. Along the Riviera Maya-Cancun coast (the Caribbean side) there are several important nesting beaches: Sian Ka-an Biosphere Reserve, Akumal Bay and X’Cacel Beach. Here you will find the Green turtle, the Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles. (Turtles on the Pacific coast are the Green turtle (called black turtles in this region), Olive Ridley, Giant Leatherback. The Kemp’s Ridley turtle is found in the Gulf of Mexico).
NEVIS: The major nesting ground for the Hawksbill turtle (critically endangered) as well as other turtle species is Pinney’s Beach, and an admirable Caribbean sea turtle programme is organised by Four Seasons Resort Nevis. Nesting season is from June to October. The resort work closely with the Nevis Turtle Group and Sea Turtle Conservancy and offer their guests turtle ‘adoptions’, educational programmes and the opportunity to join beach turtle patrols. The resort offers a weekly Sea Turtle Camp for Kids. They can expect turtle tales; turtle watch beach walks, drawing contests, arts, crafts, puzzles, videos, and interactive games. From June to October (the turtle nesting season) kids aged 3 to 9 who take part in the Kids for All Seasons turtle education programme get a sea turtle ‘adoption’ certificate and membership to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
ST KITTS: There are two primary Leatherback nesting beaches on St Kitts where the St Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) conducts early morning, and night-time, surveys and tagging of Hawksbill and Green turtles.
TRINIDAD: On Trinidad’s north east coast (Grand Riviere) is where you will find the giant Leatherback nesting during the peak turtle watching season (May & June). This site is considered the densest nesting spot in the world for Leatherbacks. Thanks to local conservation work (started at the beginning of the 1990s) nesting turtles numbers have increased dramatically from around 30 turtles overnight to over 700 overnight at the highest peak time of the season.
HOTELS: There are many hotels that can organise for their guests to witness Caribbean turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, or view hatchlings leaving their nests. Countries where you will find hotels that offer these Caribbean turtle watching adventures include Aruba, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Mexico (Riviera Maya, Yucatan Peninsula), Nevis, Puerto Rico, St Thomas.
IMPORTANT CARIBBEAN TURTLES WATCHING ADVICE
Check with your guide if there are any special requirements when you book and before you go on your Caribbean turtles watching adventure. It is important to note that sea turtles are very sensitive to any kind of disturbance so do not use your camera flash if you take photographs or any torch (including that on your smart phone) or flashlight. Caribbean turtles can be scared by movement or any lights on the beach so then might dump her eggs at sea where they will perish. Some guides do allow use of a flash light but only with the use of a red filter, and sometimes dark clothing is requested to be worn. Do keep on the lookout for any hatchlings struggling to get to the sea. As only one in a thousand survive to adulthood, it wouldn’t be good to stand on one!
Marine turtles have been swimming oceans for 110 million years but are now endangered. They usually breed in the summer time, swimming hundreds of miles to arrive at the Caribbean’s sandy beaches. Speedboats and jet skis are a big threat to turtles as turtles tend to bask in the shallows. Keep your distance from turtles if you come across them in the sea. Always bear in mind that insensitive tourism can seriously threaten marine turtles and their habitats. Make sure you dispose of litter responsibly – turtles eat jellyfish and can mistake a floating plastic bag for a delicious snack so never leave any on the beach or throw them in the sea.
SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION ORGANISATIONS, PROJECTS, CAMPAIGNS, EXPEDITIONS & CARIBBEAN TURTLES VOLUNTEER TRIPS
The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group. Their mission is to ensure the survival of sea turtles within the Caribbean region through research, education, training, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend
The Sea Turtle Conservancy
Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network
Billion Baby Turtles Campaign
Barbados Sea Turtle Project
Cuba Nature & Culture Expedition
Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Volunteer Trip
Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization Inc (DomSeTCO)
Grenada – Ocean Spirits Inc
Nevis Turtle Group
St Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN)
Trinidad Turtle Village Trust
Caribbean wildlife articles and books which may be of interest
Caribbean wildlife article written by Travel Writer & Active Caribbean Managing Editor Linda Jackson
Written by Michael Bright, with Karen Bass and Scott Alexander. Published by BBC Books
Written by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, Janis Raffaele. Helm Field Guides
Some amazing photographs of Caribbean turtles
Images on this Caribbean Turtles – Watching – Conservation page are copyright of www.linda-jackson.co.uk Tourism Corporation Bonaire (main image, Bonaire), the featured book Publishers/Authors, Brenda S & R Duncan Kirkby (St Eustatius), Discover Dominica Authority, Bonaire Tourism, Grenada Board of Tourism – Jason de Caires Taylor, Tourist Board, Kimagic-Montserrat Tourist Board