Posted on May 25 2017, by Els Kraakman.
The marine environment of the BVI is an underwater paradise for diving and snorkeling on its varied and beautiful reefs. It is very likely you will encounter a turtle on your charter while sailing, snorkeling or diving.
You also might be able to find a sea turtle at one of our many Snorkel and Dive spots. You can swim with them, but please do not touch!
Turtles swim beneath the water with ease, but being a reptile, must surface to breathe at regular intervals. They have evolved a streamlined shell, strong flippers and salt excreting glands which have helped them adapt well to their marine environment. Making the most of these traits, turtles can migrate great distances, and a turtle that starts its life in Africa may be seen here in the Caribbean.
The most common turtles to be found here in the BVI are the Hawksbill at around 150 pounds and the bigger green turtle at about 300 pounds. The Green and Hawksbill turtles look very similar to each other however they have some differences in appearance. The Green Turtle is bigger and wider with a more green colour and a yellow bottom. The Hawksbill Turtle is smaller, more narrow and is more brown with white spots.
The impressive Leatherback Turtle is the largest of the sea turtles and gets its name from its leathery like dark grey or black shell with whitish spots. It is the only sea turtle to lack a hard shell. It is a gentle giant of the sea at 1,400 pounds or more, but is only a temporary visitor who comes here to nest.
Although sea turtles spend most of their time in the water, they come onto land to lay their eggs. Turtles nest on beaches throughout the BVI, wherever the conditions are right. On Tortola, they prefer the soft sand of beaches like Josiah’s, Trunk and Lambert Bays and a female will often return to the same beach or a nearby one to lay her eggs. If undisturbed, the female carefully digs a nest up to 1 meter deep at the back of the beach using her back flippers like scoops. She lays about 100 soft, white eggs. Females nest several times in a season, laying hundreds of eggs. Interestingly, the warmth of this nest will determine, the hatchling’s sex: warmer temperatures produce mainly females and those at a lower temperature produce primarily males.
About 6-10 weeks later the eggs begin to hatch. Digging out of the nest is a team effort and the hatchlings emerge from the nest as a group in the cool of the night. They make a dash for the sea, finding their way by heading for the lightest and lowest natural horizon, the sea.
Leatherbacks have a current worldwide population of between 30,000 and 40,000 and remain on the endangered species list in the BVI, the U.S., and throughout the world. What can residents and visitors of the BVI do? Most importantly, give leatherbacks their space when they are land-bound and when you see these beautiful little hatchlings crawl to the sea, please let them be and dim all lights (no flash for pictures!). Further avoid any plastic waste, drinking straws and 6-pack rings to land in the sea!
Since 2002, the BVI Conservation & Fisheries Department has been tagging & capturing foraging sea turtles to gain an understanding of local populations and migratory behaviors. With over 1500 turtles tagged locally and several scientific journal articles published, the BVI Sea Turtle Research Team has only just begun to tap into understanding the importance of turtles locally, within the Caribbean region and globally.