#AToZJamaicaChallenge: T is for Turtle

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.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle nesting beach at Manatee Bay in the Portland Bight Protected Area - now threatened by a port development. (Photo: Mike Fouraker)
Hawksbill Sea Turtle nesting beach at Manatee Bay in the Portland Bight Protected Area – now threatened by a port development. (Photo: Mike Fouraker)

 

A female sea turtle returns to the sea after laying her eggs. (Photo: TripAdvisor/Oracabessa)
A female sea turtle returns to the sea after laying her eggs. (Photo: TripAdvisor/Oracabessa Foundation)

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; rather like the Dolphin Cove tourist attractions today, except the wild dolphins are required to perform tricks, not be eaten. 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.

Sea turtles suffer terribly from pollution and marine trash. This poor turtle is having a plastic straw removed from his nostril. (Photo: surferslodgepeniche.com)
Sea turtles suffer terribly from pollution and marine trash. This poor turtle is having a plastic straw removed from his nostril. (Photo: surferslodgepeniche.com)

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
Scientists conducting a survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including Goat Islands) last year met up with this endangered Green Sea Turtle near Big Pelican Cay. The survey was sponsored by the Waitt Foundation.
Scientists conducting a survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including Goat Islands) last year met up with this endangered Green Sea Turtle near Big Pelican Cay. The survey was sponsored by the Waitt Foundation.
A Hawksbill Turtle busy with her nest. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust/Facebook. JET has worked with communities in Portland, St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland to monitor sea turtle nesting. Community members and NGOs have been trained in sea turtle biology and monitoring, and received equipment. Data collected is submitted to the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA).
A Hawksbill Turtle busy with her nest. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust/Facebook. JET has worked with communities in Portland, St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland to monitor sea turtle nesting. Community members and NGOs have been trained in sea turtle biology and monitoring, and received equipment. Data collected is submitted to the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA).

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