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Sea Turtle Nesting
(May thru October)
|By: LeRoy French
13 March 2009
I know itís a little early to be talking about turtles nesting on our
beaches but here in the Caribbean it can start as early as the end of
What this means basically is that all residents should be on the
lookout for turtles making nests on our beaches during this time. As
all species of turtles are protected we must keep all types of
vehicles, construction and heavy traffic off our beaches from March
through October so we do not disturb these nests. To know more
about how the nests are created, I will explain.
Mother turtles come ashore usually at night and dig a hole in the
sand with their flippers and lay between 100 - 150 eggs at one
time. During this season a single female lays mutiple nests, usually
between 3 - 8. After a 45 - 70 day gestation period, hatchlings
emerge from the nest under the cover of darkness and follow the
moon reflecting off the ocean.
There are seven living species of sea turtles: flatback, green sea
turtle, hawksbill, leatherback, Ridley, loggerhead and olive ridley.
The hawksbill and green turtle are common in St. Maarten waters
along with the occasional leatherback. These animals spend most of
their lives underwater but must come to the surface to breathe air for
oxygen. With a rapid exhalation and inhalation they are able to fill
their lungs quickly. Their lungs permit a rapid exchange of oxygen
which prevents gasses from being trapped during deep dives.
During a normal dive a green turtle will submerge for about 4 - 5
minutes and surface for 1 - 3. The life expectancy of most sea turtles
is about 80 years and they are very sensitive to the Earthís
Having said that it is interesting to note that after about 30 years of
maturing a female will return to land to nest at night, usually on the
same beach from which it was born. Sea turtles also nest in the
daytime on occasion, but the green turtle only nests at night.
Generally sea turtles use the same methods for making a nest. They
use their back flippers to dig a round hole about 40/50 centimeters
deep. The female then deposits her soft shell eggs. She then fills
the hole with loose sand and then smooths over the top so it canít
be easily detected by predators. This process takes about 30
minutes to an hour.
Now what I find interesting is that the temperature of the sand
determines the gender of the hatchling. Darker sands maintain higher
temperatures, meaning incubation time is shortened increasing the
frequency of female hatchlings.
Incubation takes about two months and at that point hatchlings tear
their way out of the shell using their beak, emerge from the sand and
head for the ocean. Only .01% will make it!
If you see a turtle nesting on a beach please do not disturb it. Do
not shine a light on it as the turtle will follow the light. A red light is a
safe light to use as turtles cannot see red. DO NOT USE A WHITE
LIGHT!! Remember I mentioned early in this article that sea turtles
follow the reflection from the moon shining off the ocean. This is how
they know which direction to travel in.
And now some startling statistics: In the Caribbean the Green turtle
population has declined since the 17th century from 91 million to
300,000 today, and the Hawksbill from 11 million to less than
30,000. Now you see why they are protected.
In summary if you come across a turtle nest, do not disturb it. Mark
the area and call one of our many Foundations here in St. Maarten. If
you see someone digging, building or driving on a beach make it
known that they could be destroying a nesting area.
I will be reminding the public over the next few months about this
important act of nature and how it needs to be protected.