Caption: Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings emerging and heading for the water on Mullet Bay Beach. Photo by Etienne Lake.
In the last edition of The KIDS Herald, we told you some interesting facts about sea turtles on St. Maarten and how they are protected. This week you will be learning about how sea turtles nest and what you can do to protect them!
Sea Turtle nesting season is happening now! From April through November on St. Maarten, female sea turtles come ashore to build their nest on our sandy beaches. As the female approaches the shore, she will evaluate the best area in which to lay her eggs. Things like beachfront construction, too much artificial light and excessive seaweed or debris can deter her.
The sea turtle will then climb her way up onto the beach and start digging. Using her back “flipper-like” legs, she will create a hole and deposit the eggs in it. The number of eggs depends on the species, but leatherback sea turtles can lay up to 115 eggs several times in one year!
Once she is finished, the female will spend time covering the eggs up with sand to protect them, and then she will return to the water. From then on, the babies are on their own.
The eggs will incubate for about two months. During this time, the gender of the babies is determined. Did you know the temperature of the sand can affect this? Once the eggs hatch, the babies will use light to find their way to the ocean.
In a natural environment, the brightest light on the beach at night would be the reflection of the moon on the water’s surface.
Only 1 in every 1,000 baby sea turtles will survive to adulthood, mostly due to human impact as well as natural predators. So, protecting these creatures is very important!
Here are some things YOU can do to help nesting turtles and their babies survive.
Homes and businesses with bright lights on the beachfront can cause baby turtles looking for the ocean to be disoriented and head in the wrong direction, exposing them to attacks from predators! Make sure to keep lights on the beach off at night during nesting season.
Baby turtles often ingest plastic pollution in the ocean, which can cause them to choke or starve. Never allow household waste to enter the water, especially plastic! Pick up garbage you see on the beach and dispose of it properly.
Remember, sea turtles are protected on St. Maarten and it is illegal to disturb, damage or destroy sea turtle nests, lairs or breeding places. It is also forbidden to pick up or destroy the eggs of any species of sea turtle.
Look for us in the next edition of The KIDS Herald where we will be talking about the different types of sea turtles you can find on SXM!