BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – A 500-pound female leatherback sea turtle came out of the Caribbean Sea to lay its eggs on the Frigate Bay Beach in the vicinity of Ziggy’s Bar and Grill in the wee hours of Saturday (Apr. 2).
Members of the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) quickly arrived on the scene and began monitoring the turtle, ensuring it was less stressed as it stayed on the beach for about an hour digging in the sand just before laying its eggs.
According to Gary Buckles of the SKSTMN, the leatherback turtles usually nest on the Atlantic side of the island.
“This is because they have a soft underbelly and they don’t like to come in over the rocks and reef on the Caribbean side. But on the Atlantic side it is much deeper and they can come in closer to the shore in deep water before they actually come out and start to nest in full,” he said.
Buckles said that leatherbacks, which are labelled “critically endangered”, could lay up to 90 yolk or fertilized eggs and then a few days later would lay another batch of eggs that do not hatch, adding that they are the only turtles that do that.
Curious onlookers, who usually attend the beach strip on Friday nights to enjoy the music and socialising in and or by the various bars, had focused their attention on the turtle as she dug into the sand.
After the eggs were laid, they were collected by members of the SKSTMN who informed that they would be transferred to a safer environment to prevent being trampled upon.
The leatherback turtle measured close to 1.5 meters and her shell was 151 centimeters long and 109 centimeters wide.
Police officers were also called in to help with keeping the crowd under control as some individuals rushed to take pictures of the turtle. And according to Buckles, flashes from the cameras and noise would have caused some degree of stress to the turtle.
“We want everyone to understand the sea turtle, but we got to try and keep people from stressing her. The flash of cameras would bring stress and the noise would bring stress. Normally, we would draw blood from her but we just decided not to tonight,” he said.
National Carnival Queen Iantavian Queeley, who was on hand to see the turtle lay her eggs and also assisted in digging the hole for the turtle, said it was an exciting experience.
The SKSTMN was also her charity for the National Carnival Queen Pageant, and she said that she would go out at nights with the network to monitor the turtles.
“I already knew this summer that when nesting season came out I would go out at nights and help with the network as much as I can. It just happens that I was here with Tempo when the turtle occurred. It was very exciting, but I think people need more education on how to avoid hurting the sea turtles, especially when they are nesting, because they are an endangered species,” she said.
Buckles said there is an upcoming agriculture fair in St. Kitts where they would have a booth and information about the turtles, and that they usually host a summer camp for children.
“Turtles are a keystone species in the ocean. They help tell us the health of the ocean and, for some fishing communities, the fisherman should realise the leatherback turtles are their best friends. Their diets consist of jellyfish. Jellyfish eat fish and leatherbacks keep the jellyfish under control,” he said.
The leatherback nesting season in St. Kitts is said to begin in March and runs through the end of July, and hatchlings would emerge through October.
A leatherback can lay between 60 and 100 eggs per nest. These eggs are around two inches in diameter and would incubate between 50 to 70 days.
The other species of turtles in St. Kitts are hawksbill sea turtle and green sea turtle.