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