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Sea Turtles of the U.S. Virgin Islands

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.



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