The Nature Foundation has noticed an increase of sea turtle nesting activity, sea turtle nesting season normally lasts from April until December each year. Especially Dawn Beach has been a place of interest, already two nests successfully hatched and hatchlings made it to the ocean, and another three nests were laid successfully by hawksbill turtles. Unfortunately, weather conditions and human disturbances caused some challenges for the sea turtles and nests to survive. Several hatchlings were disturbed due to artificial lightening around the beach, causing them to end up in the pool and other obstacles, some did not survive, others were saved by the Foundation and Hotel staff. One nest got destroyed due to the swells from hurricanes in the regions, causing the eggs to flush away.
An increase in sea turtle patrols by the Foundation and the assistance of several hotels including the Westin Hotel, has led to early detection of sea turtle nesting and increased their protection and research possibilities. The Nature Foundation is fortunate to receive the assists form Tessa Volbeda, an intern from University van Hall Larenstein in the Netherlands studying Marine Biology, which will research St. Maarten’s Sea turtle nesting activities in the coming months.
“It has been an honour to be working with the Nature Foundation on this sea turtle project. I have always had a fascination for sea turtles, and I am extremely excited to be experiencing such an active nesting season. I hope to contribute as much to the conservation of these animals as possible, because they play such an important role in the ecosystem” explained Tessa Volbeda.
From March until at least December, the green, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtle species will lay their eggs on our beaches. However, sea turtles may be nesting earlier in the season to avoid higher-than-average temperatures due to climate change. Individual sea turtles have been known to lay their eggs at different times outside the regular season. All three populations have declined from human activities and are endangered, critically endangered, and vulnerable, respectively. On average only 1% of hatched sea turtles make it to adulthood, therefore it is crucial to not further hamper their survival and people should stay clear from any sea turtle nesting activity, to ensure the highest chance of survival to these eggs. It is vital that at least a 30 meters distance from sea turtles on the beach is kept, also please refrain from using flashlights and lightening, unless it is a red light.
Unfortunately, the hatchling mortality rate is high, and it is not unusual for them to become dehydrated and pass away before reaching the ocean. “Hawksbills, one of three sea turtle species that nest on St. Maarten’s beaches, are critically endangered and protected locally and internationally. This means it is illegal to kill, wound, capture or pick them up. It is also illegal to disturb their environment resulting directly or indirectly in a physical threat or damage, or to commit other acts which result in disturbance of the animal. It is forbidden to disturb, damage or destroy sea turtle nests, lairs, breeding places or eggs.” Stated the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.
Thanks to collaboration of the Nature Foundation with the security team at the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa more data could be collected from the nesting sea turtles. The Foundation was able to confirm three laid nests and two hatching events. The nests have been marked to ensure that it can remain undisturbed for the incubation time until it hatches. Eggs may be quite shallow and close to the surface of the beach. It is essential to prohibit any umbrellas being placed in nest areas which may pierce the eggs, prevent walking over the nest, and to ensure that there is absolutely no chance of the nest being driven over by any type of vehicle.
At the end of August two hatching events took place, one at Dawn Beach and one at Oyster Bay Beach. While many hatchlings seemed to have made it into the ocean a few did not find their way. Several were found around the property of the Westin Hotel, which could be due to the strong lighting in the area. Hatchling sea turtles normally follow the light of the moon reflecting on the water to reach the ocean safely and strong outdoor lights can confuse them. Some were luckily found wandering early enough to be saved, however, quite some did not survive.
If a nesting sea turtle, nesting tracks or hatchlings are encountered on the beach, always try to let sea turtles find their own way to the ocean and contact the Nature Foundation Sint Maarten immediately. It is safest to not disturb them if they are heading in the correct direction. Be alert and remove debris that is in the way. If the hatchling gets stuck or starts going in the wrong direction, carefully pick it up along with some sand and put it into a bucket until the Foundation staff arrives. If Foundation staff is not available, never place hatchlings directly in the ocean, always place them in the sand just at the edge of breaking water and count all hatchlings to report to the Foundation. Ensure that pets and animals are kept away from the area and don’t walk over the tracks, as much data can still be retrieved from sea turtle tracks and nesting signs.
In exceptional situations a nest relocation takes place. Nature Foundation staff relocated a sea turtle nest that was in danger of being damaged due to high wave activity on Dawn Beach at the end of September. A Hawksbill nest was laid on Dawn beach, unfortunately, it was located quite close to the water. There was a high risk of the nest getting flooded due to large swells, which will cause the hatchlings to die. To prevent this from happening, the nest was dug up and 126 eggs were carefully collected. This is a very risky process as the eggs are very vulnerable in the first days after being laid. If eggs are not handled carefully, fragile membranes in the egg will break, which means the egg will not develop any further.
There are some main threats to the nesting populations on St. Maarten. Lights from homes and businesses look like moonlight and they reflect on the surface of the sea. Hatchlings become confused by the lights and go towards the human lights instead of the ocean. Development reduces the beach’s width, forcing sea turtles to nest closer to the sea where their eggs could be washed away. It also pollutes and increases human presence on coasts, making it an unattractive nesting prospect. Finally, sea turtles are vulnerable when they come ashore as their hide and meat can be sold and eaten. Their eggs are also susceptible to poaching for eating.
If any sea turtle activity is observed on our beaches, please contact the Nature Foundation to report the sighting at 5444267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.