I have only seen a sea turtle once – a Green Turtle, from a glass-bottomed boat in Negril. It was a fleeting glimpse of a fascinating creature, which looked like a painted mechanical toy.
Sea turtles were once abundant in Jamaica. In the 17th century, and especially in the Port Royal area, there was a “turtle industry.” When caught, they were kept alive in a “turtle crawle” – a hollowed-out enclosure near the sea, where the turtles could swim freely but could not escape. Turtles were also shipped to England, and eaten by sailors. For the past two or three centuries, they have been hunted in the Caribbean almost to the point of extinction. Thankfully now conservation measures are in place, and nesting turtles have even become a tourist attraction.
Here are some quick facts about these wondrous creatures:
- All sea turtles are endangered or critically endangered – populations have declined drastically due to killing of females, removal of eggs and disturbance of nesting beaches (e.g. bright lights, noise)
- Turtles also suffer from eating marine trash and entrapment in fish/shrimp nests
- Turtles are cold-blooded and among the largest reptiles in the world
- Some species can live for fifty years or more
- Some species travel hundreds, even thousands of miles; they can also dive deep for prolonged periods
- The female turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs (500 – 1,000 per season, several nests); adults return to the SAME beach where they were born
- All four species of turtle in Jamaican waters (Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Leatherback, plus the Atlantic Kemps Ridley) and their eggs are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act