Nevisians and tourists alike celebrated the 11th annual sea turtle conservation weekend at the Four Seasons Resort July 14-17 by learning more about the endangered species and getting the opportunity to find turtles across the island. The search parties found a nesting sea turtle on Saturday, July 15, and Sunday, July 16. The turtles were then brought back to the hotel where they received :shell manicures” and had a tracking chip placed on their shells.
These turtles will now “compete” in a year-long competition called the Tour De Turtles. The GPS movements of the creatures will be tracked and broadcast live online on www.tourdeturtles.org, where their movement patterns will be compared with turtles from islands and peninsulas across the Caribbean.
The project is a joint effort between the Four Seasons Resort, the Sea Turtle Conservatory and the Nevis Turtle Group. Its main aim is to increase awareness of the unique needs sea turtles possess, as they are one of the only marine animals who come on land to nest.
“There are a lot of natural threats to sea turtles, and there a lot of human threats,” explained David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservatory. “As is the case with a number of different species, it’s the human threats that tip them toward having survival problems: We build things on their beach, we harvest them for meat, we take the eggs, we use the shells for different things and those are all part of the things we are trying to address. Beach-front lighting is a significant issue as well.”
Sea turtles are an important indicator species for marine life, as they are on top of the marine food chain. In different ecosystems, they serve different purposes, but generally, they are responsible for maintaining the status quo in any ecosystem they are a part of.
Sea turtles are accustomed to going back to very specific locations to nest. As human development encroaches on their territory, they find less and less available area to lay their eggs. Beachfront lighting makes it difficult for turtle hatchlings to make their way to the ocean because the lighting on land confuses their directional instincts, and they head further inland instead of toward the safety of the ocean.
The Sea Turtle Conservatory has established this tracking program to address these issues.
“Putting satellite transmitters on the turtles, we are learning important things to guide our conservation work and people love watching where they go just like we do, so we formed this program,” Godfrey said. “It takes hours to [set up the transmitter] because it’s a poxy-resin and different layers have to dry before you do the next one. It doesn’t harm the turtles at all as they just safely adhere to their backs and fall off after a year or so. The turtles don’t really know it’s there.”
The Sea Turtle Conservatory works across all areas that sea turtles like to head to nest, so the Nevis Turtle Group and the Four Seasons resort got involved to increase the local feel of this important event.
The Nevis Turtle Group is a volunteer organization started in 2001 after a concern that not enough was being done locally to collect information on turtles in Nevis. According to their website, they have discovered that there are somewhere between 240-270 nests built across different beaches on the island each year.
“Over the years we have a lot of help by a number of people on the island and in 2006 we had the Sea Turtle Conservatory as well as the Four Seasons Resort, these organizations have helped us step up our efforts in terms of sea turtle conservation,” said Lemuel Pemberton, president of the Nevis Turtle Group. “From 12 turtles being tagged in the first year, over the past few years we have been able to get over 50 turtles tagged. We really appreciate the help.”
This practice has established itself as a tradition in the island over the years, one which is still growing in terms of the impact it has on the sea turtles native to the island of Nevis. This year, the two turtles released are named Moji and Tilly, and those who wish can check out their progress on the Tour de Turtles website for more information.