Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Leatherback Turtle Watch at Sandy Point

Aerial photo of Sandy Point taken
from stcroixtourism.com

When I was a little girl, I remember going with my parents to see the Leatherback turtles come and nest on Sandy Point.  I tried to take A about 2 years ago to do the same, but the group we were with decided to leave at 10 and we didn’t get to see anything. So, in the spirit of homeschooling and experiencing the island I decided to give it a go this year. 

Let me just tell you, it was AWESOME, AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, and COOLIO!!!!

This was our group minus a few adults because
taking pictures in the dark is near impossible!
So, here’s the lowdown. Anyone can go see these amazing animals come up on shore and lay their eggs at Sandy Point as long as you have reservations and the turtles cooperate.  You need to get a hold of the Fish and Wildlife personnel to do this. If you have a large enough group (15-30 people) it’s like your own private tour, if you are a small group, they might be able to sneak you into another group.  Oh, and it’s FREE.  Of course if you want to make a donation to a great group you can pay St. Croix Environmental Association to make your reservations for you as they block off certain dates in advance.  Anyway, you need to make your reservations, confirm your date, and then on the day of gather at the Refuge entrance at 7:45 pm. Bring bug spray and PLENTY of it.  I brought drinks and snacks for my kids, but we ended up not needing anything but drinks. 
photo from simonsen.photoshelter.com

This is how it went for us. We got there, all the homeschoolers who had signed up for the field trip were there. We listened to Jennifer from the FWS talk and tell us the rules. We got back into our cars and headed into the refuge. After driving down some amazingly well paved roads, we got to our beach spot.  Then we waited – it was POURING for about 30 mins.  Eventually we got out of our cars and this is what happened according to A:

            When we got out of the cars it was wet and damp and I could smell the wet sand and the sea and it smelled wonderful. Then we went on a path to the ocean and there was a bridge that we had to pass. We went to a spot on the beach and we stayed there for an hour and a half until we got the first call on the radio and there was a leatherback sea turtle! When we got the call I was so happy that we were going to see a turtle nesting.

photo from thew2o.net
After getting the call on the radio, we packed up all our stuff and moved back to the road and booked it to the next parking area where we walked/ran to get to where the turtle was.  All this time, we were only using the light off the moon and the stars to navigate by. It was amazingly cool. We could hear the surf the whole time too because it was a rough night.  Once we got down to the beach were the turtle was, we had to walk along it until we actually found her.  The beach sand was a luminous white with ribbons of black seaweed all along it, so walking was a big difficult, but not bad.  All of a sudden, there appeared before a huge, hulking, black mountain that hardly moved at all but was quite substantial.  It was our leatherback momma.  She was in the process of laying her eggs. The researchers had started to collect her eggs as she was laying then in the area of the beach where the waves broke and could potentially have been washed out to sea if it had gotten rougher.  After being able to touch her carapace(shell), back flippers, shoulders, and even sides we got to see the researchers measure her from the front of her carapace to her back, measure her width, and put in new tags.  She did NOT like the new tag bit – can’t say I blame her. Then she disguised her nest for a bit before “the mother sea turtle clumsily slid into the black ocean.”

The kids named her Friday as we saw her on Friday the 13th! She measured 164.5cm from the front of her carapace to the back. If you added her head into that she was at least 184 cm long if not longer.  She laid 132 eggs that night. Can you imagine doing that?!

Sadly out of those 132, probably only 1 will survive to sexual maturity and come back to nest. 

photo from youthgo.gov
If you have never been to a turtle watch before you NEED to do this. Email the Fish and Wildlife Service, call SEA, find a group, sell an arm or leg to do this. It is an AMAZING experience. It touches you in ways that you didn’t know possible. It makes an impact on kids. I REMEMBER each and every time we did as a child, I remember helping hatchlings on other beaches find their way back into the water. I remember being so amazed at these turtles size that I thought it was as big as a VW Bug when I was little.  This event only happens between April and Jule/July so if you are here during that time, it is well worth the effort to go and see these animals up close and personal.

No comments:

Post a Comment