There are three species
of sea turtles in the U.S. Virgin Islands that inhabit our local waters and
utilize local beaches for nesting. Spring brings the official start of sea
turtle nesting season. Although some species, such as green and hawksbill
turtles will nest year round in the Virgin Islands, there are distinct
seasons of high activity for all three turtle species nesting here.
Leatherback sea turtles are the first to begin their nesting spree. The
first leatherback activities generally occur in February, with extensive
nesting from April through August. Leatherbacks prefer to nest on dynamic,
wide, sandy beaches such as Sandy Point on the West end of St. Croix, and
surrounding beaches. Sandy Point is a national Wildlife Refuge. It is open
to the public on weekends, but is closed during the height of turtle nesting
to protect the vulnerable nests and hatchlings. Leatherback turtles are the
largest species of sea turtle, weighing on average 600-800 pounds. They lay
approximately 80 yolked eggs in each nest, which is commonly referred to as
a clutch. They are also the only sea turtle species that lays yolkless
eggs. Yolkless eggs consist only of the egg white and are not fertilized.
Twenty to 40 of these unfertilized eggs are laid in each clutch. A
leatherback will lay 5 to 6 times in a season, with an interval of 10 days
between nesting events. It takes approximately 60-65 days for the eggs to
hatch and the baby turtles to emerge and enter the sea. Leatherback sea
turtles are critically endangered and are protected by law from human
interaction, harassment, or the taking of eggs and adults.
Green turtles prefer to
nest later in the season, with the main nesting season lasting from August
to October. They will nest on sandy beaches, but are commonly found nesting
on cobblestone and rocky beaches such as Jacks, Isaacs and East End Bay on
St. Croix. Green
--> turtles are
medium-sized and weigh on average 200-300 pounds. This species lays an
average of 110-120 eggs in each clutch, but do not lay yolkless eggs. A
green turtle will produce on average 4.5 nests per season, with an interval
of approximately 11 days between nesting events. The incubation period for
green turtles is slightly shorter than leatherbacks, at around 55-60 days.
Green turtles are threatened and are also protected by law from harvesting,
poaching, and harassment.
Hawksbill turtles are the
smallest of the three species commonly found nesting in the Virgin Islands.
They weigh up to 215 lbs but are generally much smaller, at around 150
pounds. Peak nesting season is from July through October. Nesting occurs
on many types of beach, including sandy and rocky beaches all around the
island. However, no matter what type of beach they choose, hawksbill
turtles prefer to nest high into the vegetation under sea grapes and
Manchineel. Buck Island is one of the most important hawksbill nesting
beaches in the Virgin Islands. This species lays a large number of eggs,
with an average of 130 eggs in each clutch. A hawksbill will produce on
average 2.7 nests per season, with an interval of approximately 14 days
between nesting events. The incubation period for hawksbill turtles is
similar to that of greens, at around 55-60 days. Hawksbill turtles are
endangered and are also protected by law from harassment, poaching,
harvesting, and other human interactions. Successful nesting seasons are
vital to the success and recovery of our local sea turtle populations. Sea
turtles are an integral part of the local and global ecosystem, and their
presence on local beaches and in surrounding waters should be respected,
revered and celebrated.