St. Maarten is home to four documented species of sea turtle (family Cheloniidae): the green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead. Both resident and migratory populations of sea turtles are found in St. Maarten. While some individuals live and forage off the island’s shore permanently, others travel only to St. Maarten to nest and lay their eggs. Most sea turtles in St. Maarten come ashore in the night to nest between the months of April and November. However, individual females may lay eggs slightly earlier or later in the season.
View detailed information and sea turtle photos from St. Maarten by clicking on each species below:
Best practices for sea turtle encounters
I visit the beach often. What can I do to help sea turtles?
Habitat destruction and development is a major threat for sea turtles, so it is important to practice good habits when visiting a beach. These actions increase the chances of sea turtles nesting and successful hatching:
- Replace bright white lights with amber or red light caps. Sea turtles and hatchlings mistake artificial white light for moonlight, and will often head in the direction of roads and buildings instead of back to the ocean.
- Do not drive heavy vehicles on the sand. Nests are often shallow and the eggs are fragile, so compressing the sand above the nest could easily crush eggs and prevent hatchlings from escaping the nest.
- Implement a no-plastic policy on the beach and clean up any trash. Sea turtles can ingest or become trapped by plastic, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Keep your property clear of debris, especially any plastics.
- Fill in any holes and knock down sand barriers. Nesting sea turtles or hatchlings can become easily trapped by holes or barriers in the sand, or barred from entering or exiting the ocean.
What do I do if I come across a sea turtle nesting?
Sea turtles are very sensitive to light, noise, and activity, and will abandon nesting attempts if disturbed. Because of this, it is critical to keep your distance and allow them to nest privately. In general:
- Call the Nature Foundation to report the nesting immediately. We are contact the designated authority to monitor and research sea turtles on the island.
- Turn off all bright white lights, including camera lights and flashlights. Red and amber lights are better options when witnessing sea turtle nesting.
- Maintain a distance of 30 meters (100 feet) or as far as possible and keep your voice down. They are easily disturbed and may turn back or refuse to nest, resulting in a ‘false crawl.’
- Restrain dogs and other animals from approaching them. Sea turtles recognize canines and other animals as predators and will flee from nesting.
What do I do if I witness sea turtle eggs hatching?
Newborn sea turtle hatchlings are delicate, and need to use their limited energy to haul out to the ocean. Help their chances of survival by doing the following:
- Call the Nature Foundation to report the hatching immediately. We are contact the designated authority to monitor and research sea turtles on the island.
- Maintain a distance of 30 meters (100 feet) or as far as possible and do not interfere. If a hatchling appears lethargic or in distress, contact the Nature Foundation, but do not handle them.
- Turn off all bright white lights, including camera lights and flashlights. Hatchlings will follow the moonlight reflecting off the ocean, but are confused by other light sources.
- Restrain dogs and other animals from approaching them. Hatchlings are easily injured or killed by larger animals.
- Create natural barriers if they are traveling in the wrong direction. You can place palm fronds, sand and rocks to encourage them to turn around.
Legal protections for sea turtles
All four sea turtle species found in St. Maarten’s waters are globally threatened or endangered. As a result, there are various local, regional, and international legal measurements in place to protect their populations. It is illegal to harass, disturb, harm, possess, capture, handle, take, trade, or transport sea turtles or their eggs. You are prohibited from transporting any sea turtle body parts or products. It is also forbidden to disturb, damage, or destroy sea turtle nests, lairs, or breeding places.
In short — keep your distance, stay discrete, and do not handle sea turtles, their eggs, or their nests! You can more about the specific laws here:
- Articles 16 and 17 of the Nature Conservation Ordinance St. Maarten
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
- Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW)
- Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)
Nature Foundation initiatives and projects
Research. We carry out measurement and sampling projects for green and hawksbill sea turtles foraging in the waters of St. Maarten. Scientific research provides information about the movement patterns, growth and population structure of the sea turtles, besides the DNA samples provide extended information and determine abundance, migration, diet and tropic level.
Monitoring. The Nature Foundation actively manages and monitors the sea turtle nesting activities on St. Maarten since 1999. Endangered leatherbacks, hawksbills, and green sea turtles come ashore to nest each year. We conduct various activities with regard to nesting, including beach surveys, nest excavations, tagging activities, and nest success research.
The Nature Foundation also partners with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) to preserve, protect and study these animals on St. Maarten. Their website, widecast.org, has several great resources and much more information about sea turtles.
Help out sea turtles locally
The Foundation relies on volunteers to assist in its activities and welcomes any volunteers who would be interested in monitoring beaches for nests and hatchlings. Beach communities in particular are in the best position to help ensure that females nest safely, that nests are left undisturbed, and that hatchlings make it safely to the sea.
Fun facts about sea turtles
- The very first sea turtles have been on Earth for over 100,000 million years, and existed at the same time as many dinosaurs.
- Many female sea turtles will return to the same area (or even the same beach) that they hatched from to lay their eggs.
- The temperature of the nest dictates what sex the babies will be. Warmer nests produce mostly females, while cooler ones lead to more males.
- A turtle’s shell is part of its skeleton and contains over 50 bones, including their rib cage. Their shell grows with them as they age.
- Only about 1% of hatchlings live to adulthood due to environmental dangers and human impact, including ocean pollution, commercial fishing, poor water quality from wastewater run-off.