Turtle Nesting in Trinidad & Tobago

Turtle Watching has become a very popular activity in Trinidad & Tobago, especially over the past 5 years. Once again, this vibrating Caribbean country doesn’t disappoint when it comes to nature. Its wide variety of nature-related activities never stops to amaze me.

I am just glad that I have been more focused on exploring these types of offerings in more recent years. I think I have explored the party scene long enough, lol.

Coming from a Caribbean island myself, I have always been surprised of the diversity of the fauna and flora in Trinidad & Tobago. Here's the shortened explanation Trinidadians gave me over the years. Many moons ago,  the island broke off from the South American Continent. That would explain Trinidad’s close proximity to the North-East coast of Venezuela (11 km/ 6.8 miles).

Anyway, back to Turtle Nesting!!

Turtle Species in Trinidad & Tobago

There is a wide variety of turtle species in T&T.  For instance, you can find the Loggerhead, Leatherback, the Hawksbill, Olive Ridley sea turtles, among other species. 

The Leather Back Turtle is the most common specie to spot during the nesting season in T&T. Indeed, this country is one of the 3 largest nesting sites in the World for this specie, which is also endangered.

Commercial fishing, marine pollution, bad weather, Predators at sea (eg., sharks) and on land (humans, raccoons, seagulls, etc.) have a severe impact on turtle population worldwide. The Illegal sea turtle shells trade also contributes to their dwindling numbers.

Turtle hunting and consumption became illegal in Trinidad & Tobago since October 2011. Unfortunately, after decades of turtle meat consumption, especially around certain local festivals, many still disregard this law. 

There are a few Sea Turtle Conservation Programs locally, but poaching remains an issue here (and worldwide).

Turtle Nesting Sites in Trinidad & Tobago

1. Several Nesting Sites

There are many nesting sites throughout the twin-island Trinidad & Tobago. However, only some of them offer Guided tours. 

No matter what site you choose to visit, please know that most turtles arrive at the beach between 10pm and 1am. Also, note that the nesting season in this country is between early March and late August.

Please wear a sweater as the beach breeze could be chilly. Also, it would be easier and faster for you to walk on the sand in sneakers (rather than flip flops/sandals).

The nesting site I visited was the one in Matura, which is located on the Northeast coast of Trinidad. Matura is one of the most popular nesting sites and offers guided tours (Nature Seekers). Matura is about a 2-hour drive from the capital, Port of Spain.

I cannot imagine going to a nesting site without a guide. You learn more about turtles this way. You also learn what you can do (or not) to prevent harming the turtles or disturbing their nesting process.

Nature Seekers has a small facility with bathrooms, display of turtle-related information and a jewelry store (hand-made and natural craft). The nesting site is 2-minute walk from the facility. Click here for Nature Seekers website.

For a List of Guided Sites in Trinidad and Tobago and a few Precautionary Tips, click here.

2. The Guided Tour

Each Tour guide took a small group of persons (a dozen) with them and walked the beach for 2 minutes to a particular spot to give some educational information about turtles and the nesting process. 

I learnt that each turtles would first dig a nest, lay its eggs and then cover them. Afterwards, the turtle will dig a second (empty) nest before heading back to the ocean. This second nest is fake and is made up as an attempt to throw off potential predators who might be looking for the eggs once the turtle leaves the beach. If a turtle sees white light while heading back to the ocean, it is highly probable that it returns to dig a second fake nest (for the same reason she dug the 1st fake one).

It was also interesting to learn that a turtle gender mostly depends on the temperature of the sand in which the nest was dug. The warmer the sand, the higher chances of female hatchlings. Therefore, nests closest to the ocean will have higher chance to produce male hatchlings than those closer to the vegetation (mostly females).

The guide explained that it is not allowed to use a white-color flashlight, camera flash, or cellphone light, in close proximity to a turtle. The only exception are red-color flashlights. I wish I had known that beforehand. I would have bought my multi-colored flashlight (see ad below) earlier.

As a result, nobody was able to take any decent photos or video footage. Actually, the only source of light, once we were standing by the turtle, was the guide’s red-color flashlight. It seems that research has proved that it is the only turtle-friendly flashlight color. The white flashlight to turtles usually means danger to them (and their eggs).

Once the 10-15 minute lecture was over, the guide took the group to another walk, this time for close to 10 minutes. The guide had just received a heads-up from his walkie talkie of where a turtle (assigned) for this group was located.

Once we reached the spot, there she was, busy preparing her nest!

Read on below...

Sea Turtle. Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop
Unspecified Turtle Specie. Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop

Leatherback Turtles: Dinosaurs are Alive!!

1. What a sight!!

a. I am Impressed !

Sorry if I might sound a bit dramatic, but there is something astonishing about seeing a Leatherback Turtle for the first time.

Granted, the Leatherback Turtle is the largest turtle in the world! However, there is something very “Dinosaur-ish” about its overall size and the look of its carapace.

Hearing a Leatherback turtle’s breath while she was busy using her huge front flippers to dig her nest is quite an impressive moment. I felt very humble to witness such an event.

I've seen big turtles in my life before, but I believe I didn't feel impressed until I saw that particular specie. It's probably another reason why I had cancelled this experience so easily before. So to my surprise, I was blown away. 

 

b. The Experience was cut short !

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long enough until she was done with the nest. Indeed, my tour operator was way behind schedule, having tried to include too many activities on that day. (The day-long adventure had started at around 8am). It was 10pm, when we left the nesting site.

I was very disappointed not seeing the entire process, including witnessing the turtle laying its eggs. However, the tour guides were kind enough to let us hold turtles hatchlings, which were born 24 hours prior to our visit.

Having this little hatchling moving his flippers between my fingers was one of those heart-melting moments. That did more than cheer me up from our premature departure. 

Leatherback Turtle Hatchling in Trinidad
Leatherback Hatchling
Leatherback Turtle Hatchling in Trinidad
Precious Little Thing

2. Turtles Features

Hard to believe that Leatherback turtles grow to be between 4 and 6 feet long! On average, adults weigh between 300 and 500 kg (660 – 1,100 lbs). So as I said earlier, they are the largest turtle specie!

In general, female turtles only reproduce every 2-4 years and mating only takes place in the ocean has male turtles never return on land after they're born.

The Leatherback turtle is the only turtle specie whose carapace isn’t made of a hard shell. Instead, its carapace consists of layer of tough rubbery skin, strengthened by bone plates. The carapace is dark grey or black and has white or pale spots.

The leatherback turtle hatchling I briefly held will have a lot of crustaceans, jellyfish and other soft-bodied invertebrates to eat before he could reach his adult size. And since the guide said he's a male, Trinidad would be the only land he'll ever be in his lifetime.

 What an amazing experience I had! I am still in awe, months later!

Trust that I’ll return during the next nesting season AND with my red-color flashlight this time!

I'll also choose a tour operator where Turtle Watching would be the only activity. So should you! I will definitely not go Hiking before!

Stay Tuned!

If you have experienced Turtle Watching, feel free to leave your Comments below. I would love to hear about it.

24 Replies to “Turtle Nesting in Trinidad & Tobago”

  1. i read ur posts and i remember the same trip in mombasa kenya. it’s so great feeling. we spend full night waiting for the babies to come from the sand and immediatly they go to the beach. we had amazing experience

  2. Fantastic post. I did not know so much about turtles and will surely look for leather back turtle on my next island trip. I love water and swimming with turtles. Thanks for sharing such informative post

  3. I love turtles and I’d love to do some kind of baby turtle release some day. But I want to be very careful about what company I do it with. I want to be 100% sure that I’m ethically supporting baby turtles!

    1. I agree with you 100% Brianna. I loved what Nature Seeker is trying to do for the turtles and wish it would encourage more people to do their part to protect them. Next time I’ll use another tour operator to take me back to Nature Seeker’s tour so that i can get the full experience.

  4. Sounds like a fun experience! I’ve never seen these large turtles out in the wild. I’m glad to hear there are groups trying to make a difference and help this species survive.

  5. Turtles are amazing creatures and I can understand why people like to watch them. Never knew there were so many species on Trinidad and Tobago. A tour sounds worth it to really get to know all the facts. Pity yours was cut short!

    1. Thanks dear. Best way to see anything upclose would be scuba diving! Leatherback turtles are deep divers, but you might get to see other species close to the surface by just snorkeling!

  6. Sounds like a really amazing and educating experience, too bad you couldn’t stay longer. Also really sad to see that people disregard the laws and still hunt…

    1. I’ll make up for that next year! Seeing the picture of the hatchling got me excited already. March isn’t far though 🙂 Unfortunately, laws are broken here and everywhere else in this world…makes you really wonder what’s the percentage of law-abiding citizens on this planet!

  7. I visited Trinidad & Tobago last year (as I have family there) and I was blown away by how diverse both islands are when it comes to nature. I didn’t get the opportunity to observe the turtles nesting but I’ll make sure I do when I return.

  8. People trade turtle shells and eat turtle meat?!? I’m so horrified. But this guided adventure sounds spectacular and I’m definitely going to have to add it to my bucket list! You got to hold a hatchling? My jealousy is overwhelming…

    1. No need to be jealous, i am sure you will manage to experience turtle nesting soon enough!! About 10 years ago, someone here offered me some Stewed Turtle Eggs…I just couldn’t…and politely declined! 🙁 I recently went hiking and saw some crushed turtle eggs by a deserted beach and all the memories of the cute lil hatchling i held came right back 🙁 Sad to see that they didn’t make it to the ocean!

  9. One of my best friends worked in turtle conservation for a summer – helping the turtles safely nest, and their offspring safely make it back to the ocean. After hearing about her experience, I’ve always wanted to go and see turtle nesting! It sounds like such a wonderful experience. Thanks for all the great tips – I’ll definitely be bearing them in mind when I go!

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