Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle makes a Rare Daytime Visit

Leatherback sea turtle on Keys Beach (photo by Katharine Garrido)
Dr. Stewart checking for flipper tags
Flipper tag on leatherback sea turtle (photo by Katharine Garrido)
Her exit (photo by Kimberly Stewart)

ZIZ News…June 15 2012 — While walking on Keys Beach recording bird nests Wednesday afternoon, St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) Staff got quite a surprise. They discovered a nesting female leatherback sea turtle! This is a very special treat as leatherback sea turtles typically nest at night, not during the day.

This female leatherback sea turtle had originally been tagged in St. Kitts on 21 April 2007 on Keys Beach. She nested 3 times (on 21 April 2007, 12 June 2007, and 24 June 2007) that season. She returned to nest on Keys Beach twice in 2010, (on 11 April 2010 and 10 May 2010) and then twice so far in 2012 (on 10 May 2012 and 14 June 2012).

The SKSTMN runs patrols for nesting female leatherbacks nightly on the main leatherback nesting beaches (Keys and North Friars) from April 1st through July 14th annually. If you would like to accompany the SKSTMN Team to view a nesting sea turtle please contact the Sea Turtle Hotline at 764-6664. Keys Beach is now part of the newly designated UNESCO St. Mary’s Biosphere Reserve and it is hoped that there will soon be an Interpretative Centre for citizens and visitors alike to learn about our sea turtles.

Leatherback sea turtles are classified globally as Critically Endangered because scientists have determined that their populations have been reduced by more than 80% over the last century. Only 1 in 1,000 leatherback sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood, and the females that survive will not return to nest on our shores until they are around 25 years of age. Disturbing one of these ancient creatures during nesting carries a fine of EC$5,000.

Sea turtles are attracting more and more tourists to St. Kitts. Protecting them now will contribute to our eco-tourism and economic development. Leatherback sea turtles feed on jellyfish – they are “keystone species” in the marine environment, carefully maintaining jellyfish populations. Jellyfish feed on fish larvae so decreases in leatherback sea turtle populations and subsequent increases in jellyfish populations cause declines in commercial and recreational fishing. Sea turtles help to maintain a healthy balance in the marine ecosystem – and a healthy marine ecosystem provides an array of opportunities for prospective tourist-based businesses, including fishing, diving, and snorkeling. In contrast, if our natural resources are left unprotected or over-utilized, the marine ecosystem will collapse, leaving little to no opportunity for tourism, employment, or subsistence fishing.

We urge all citizens to assist in efforts to conserve and protect sea turtles and their habitat so that they will be around for generations to come. For more information on sea turtles and regulations regarding them in St. Kitts please visit www.stkittsturtles.org. Please report any sea turtle sightings, nesting events etc. to the Sea Turtle Hotline at 764-6664 or the St. Kitts Department of Marine Resources at 465-8045.

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