25. July 2012 10:21
A MUST-DO if you are visiting St. Croix during turtle nesting season: April to August – is to participate in a “turtle watch”. Nightly volunteers “watch” the nests,
collecting data and helping with any protection or relocation (due to erosion) needs. There are scheduled times when the public is invited to come on the “watch”, though you must be a member of the St. Croix Environmental Association to participate. At $50/year its a bargain that really helps the cause too! SEA also has other environmental centered events throughout the year, so no matter what time of year you are traveling to St. Croix you can take advantage of these learning expeditions.
Vacationers and locals alike visit Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St Croix. It is located on the southwest side of the island, just south of Frederiksted. Sandy Point is a habitat area for many endangered species, but was particularly set aside as a nesting area for the leatherback sea turtles. In fact, it boasts the largest nesting population of leatherbacks in the United States on its 2 miles of white sandy beach.
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtle; females nesting on St. Croix average 6-800 lbs and the largest male ever recorded was more than 2000 lbs! After nesting in the tropics, leatherbacks migrate to the North Atlantic; a satellite transmitter was attached to a St. Croix nester and she was documented traveling all the way to Nova Scotia! Scientists have estimated that leatherbacks could be extinct within 10 to 15 years based on current levels of population decline.
The nocturnal trek of hatchling Sea Turtles is one of the most interesting and exciting spectacles in nature. It takes between 50 and 65 days after the mother turtle deposits her eggs in a beachside nest that the hatchlings will emerge by breaking out of their thin eggs buried below the sand and make their struggle to the surface and then onward to the water. This is an especially perilous point in their survival because in addition to the natural predators such as Gulls and Raccoons, man has made it increasingly difficult for the newly hatched turtles to find their way to the ocean. The baby turtles emerge under cover of darkness and are naturally attracted to lights, as it is their instinct to move towards the lighter horizon of the ocean and away from the darkness of the beach and sand dunes. Their ability to get from their nest to the relative safety of the ocean is critical for their survival.