Nevis children participate in Sea Turtle Hunt

Students from St. James’ and Violet O. Jeffers Nicholls primary schools participated in a Sea Turtles Hunting on Friday, November 25, 2016 at Lover’s Beach, Nevis organized by Nevis Historical and Conservation Society (NHCS) in collaboration with the Nevis Turtle Group.

This activity came at the heels of the visit of Prince Harry of Wales at the same beach where he teamed up with members of the Nevis Turtle Monitoring Group on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Prince Harry returned to the island of Nevis where he once holidayed with his mother.  Although turtles on Nevis island hatch early in the morning, five leatherbacks had been trapped under some rocks.  Harry saved them and helped them find their way to the sea.  He said he had never seen baby turtles.  He saw them for the first time in Nevis.  At Lovers Beach nests can hold up to 110 eggs per nest.

Eastern Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network (ECMMAN) Outreach Coordinator, Miss Danielle Moore and the President Nevis Turtle Monitoring Group Mr. Lemuel Pemberton, coordinated an awareness session for the students.  They allowed the children to ask questions which they answered as they hunted for turtle nests.

Mr. Pemberton told the students that there are several turtle nesting beaches on the island of Nevis.  He singled out Lover’s Beach as the largest nesting beach.

During the awareness session, the students learnt that the most common sea turtles at the Lover’s Beach, are hawksbill and green sea turtles.  This is because the body of water before the beach, the Narrows, contains the largest sea grass bed in St. Kitts and Nevis. Sea grass is the main food source of a sea turtles diet.

One child asked the following question, “I read somewhere that sea turtles never see their children. Why don’t see their children?”.  Miss Moore told the student “Sea turtles have to quickly get to the shore to lay their eggs and get back to the water. After laying their eggs, the mother turtle’s work is done.  She returns to the sea, leaving her eggs to develop on their own.”

Mature female turtles lay eggs on land in nesting burrows.  They cover the eggs up with sand then return to the sea leaving them to incubate. Sea turtles eggs incubate for an average two to three months eggs before they hatch.

Mr. Pemberton told the children that temperatures of the environment affect the gender of the sea turtles. When temperatures are hot, more female turtles are hatched and when temperatures are cool, more male turtles are hatched. “We say girls are hot and guys are cool,” Pemberton noted.

The nesting period is from March to middle of December.  October and November are heavy nesting periods. There is no turtle nesting in January and February.

Sea turtle eggs hatch in unison overwhelming predators with their large numbers.  Once hatched they head straight for the water using the natural downward slope of the beach and reflection of the moon and the stars against the sea water to guide them.

Just like all migratory animals sea turtles return to their nesting beaches using the earth magnetic field. Every beach has its own magnetic signature. When a sea turtle hatches it remembers this signature and later uses this as an internal compass.

Once in the water, baby sea turtles feed on seaweeds, algae and small marine animals and live in hiding until they are large enough to defend themselves. After fifteen to twenty five years the female and male sea turtle would be fully grown and mature enough to mate thus repeating the nesting process.

Mr. Pemberton stated that it is important that students and other members of the society avoid human activities that contribute to climate change because if only females are hatched, there will be no males to mate with the females.

Climate change can also lead to erosion of beaches by causing weather disasters such as hurricanes.

During the hunt, children had an opportunity to see a large deceased hawksbill sea turtle.  Miss. Moore said sea turtles can be killed by predators such as sharks or can be entangled in lost fishing nets (ghost fishing).

Mr. Pemberton said this hawksbill sea turtle may have been attacked by a shark as it bled to death since one of its arms was torn off. He also added “the most endangered turtle is the hawksbill. Fishermen target it because of its meat.”

Conserving sea turtles is important.  Mr. Pemberton noted that tourists love to participate in turtle nesting hunts.  Some tourists he said, love to swim alongside turtles.

Mr. Pemberton is hopeful that Lover’s Beach will be gazette as a protected area. He also wants existing laws that protect sea turtles to be enforced to protect sea turtles for future generations.

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