The Nature Foundation St. Maarten with the support of the Ministry of VROMI will be placing sixteen sea turtle nesting information signs on the main nesting beaches: Mullet Bay, Simpson Bay, Guana Bay, Gibbs Bay and Dawn Beach, over the course of the next few weeks. Last Thursday, the first sign was placed on Mullet Bay Beach with the assistance and support from the Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI), Egbert Doran.
“I encourage awareness to the sea turtle nesting, placing these signs will help do so. The nests are very delicate, and there are a variety of precautions that should be taken while visiting beaches that are visited by nesting turtles. I further encourage a commitment to environmental responsibility.” Minister Egbert Doran of VROMI said.
The sea turtle nesting signs contain important information about nesting on St. Maarten and which actions can cause harm towards the survival of eggs and hatchlings. The signs contain information about the protected status of sea turtles on St Maarten and warn for any violations, which are also supported by the Prosecutor Office and Ministry of Justice.
“We are very worried about the decrease of our sea turtle population and the amount of threats sea turtles face. Therefore, we are very pleased with the possibility of placing these signs along the important sea turtle nesting beaches of Sint Maarten. Education is key and we hope that the signs will contribute to a decrease in beach driving, harassment of sea turtle nests, bonfires and decline of artificial lightning on beaches. Together we can protect these significant species and ensure their survival to still have nesting sea turtles on our beaches in the future” explained Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern, Manager of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.
On Sint Maarten four endangered sea turtle species can be found foraging, three of these species also nest. Green, hawksbill and Leatherback Sea turtles typically nest on the beaches during the months April through December each year. Humans are the primary source of many of the threats these animals face which result in only 1 in 1000 hatchlings surviving to adulthood. Despite their endangered status, sea turtles are still being killed for their meat and shells around the world. Habitat destruction has been an increasing problem as the coastlines are being overdeveloped since the 1990’s. This results in limited space available for natural beaches, which are necessary for sea turtles to nest. Poaching of eggs, fishery bycatch and trash pollution of the oceans are all also threats sea turtles are facing and causing their populations to become endangered.
Besides all these major threats, boat strikes are also a significant cause of a decreasing sea turtle population around St. Maarten. In 2021 four sea turtles died due to boat strikes and another five turtles died in 2020. Sea turtles’ surface to breathe as they have lungs and breathe air. During this time, the turtles are exposed to boats and especially their propellers, when boats are traveling at high speeds turtles are easily struck. The Foundation urges all boaters to lower their speed in coastal and lagoon areas and to actively look out for sea turtles when driving a boat, at all times!
All sea turtle’s species are locally and internationally protected by the SPAW Protocol, CITES Convention, Bonn Convention and the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten Articles 16 and 17. This means it is illegal to kill, wound, capture or pick up sea turtles. 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 or breeding places. Also, it is forbidden, by the same law, to pick up or to destroy the eggs of any species of sea turtle. In short, it is illegal to disturb or damage the turtles, their eggs or their habitat in any way.
The Nature Foundation asks everyone to be mindful of the threats sea turtles face and try to mitigate them, especially on nesting beaches. Never drive on our beaches with any type of vehicle, keep distance from nesting and hatching turtles, minimize your use of single-use plastics and remove all trash, slow down your boat when traveling in the lagoon or coastal areas, request permits for bonfires, and limit beach lighting during nesting season, which is from April until December. If an injured sea turtle or any sea turtle nesting activity on the beach is encountered, please alert the Nature Foundation immediately.