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Saving sea turtles in the Grenadines…one turtle at a time

Two small-scale conservation projects in Bequia and Carriacou help protect the Grenadines’ sea turtles

Sea turtles have been swimming the world’s oceans since the days when dinosaurs walked the land. Now all seven species of these ancient and enduring creatures are endangered, some critically. As threats to their survival increase – such as pollution, poaching, fishing, and coastal development – so turtle numbers have decreased by an alarming ninety per cent over the past decade. The vast distances that turtles migrate complicates their conservation at an international level. Leatherbacks, for example, are found in the waters of the Caribbean, Newfoundland, and the British Isles. Luckily, attempts to save them at a local level are increasing, and visitors to the Grenadine Islands in the south Caribbean have several opportunities to witness and participate in conservation at a grassroots level.

Although they spend vast amounts of time in water, the behaviour of turtles while at sea is the least understood of all marine animals. Capable of great longevity, turtles are in no hurry to reproduce, and when, after many years of floating in the sea, a female does come ashore to nest, each egg she lays has a one-in-a-thousand chance of reaching maturity.

Old Hegg turtle sanctuary on Bequia, the largest of St Vincent’s Grenadine Islands, works to increase the hatchlings’ chances of survival through their earliest and most vulnerable years. Situated on the stunning Park Beach on the north-east coast of Bequia, Old Hegg was founded in 1995 by Orton “Brother” King, a retired professional skin diver, whose dedication and passion over the last ten years has saved the lives of countless hawksbill turtles – distinguished by their beak-like mouths.

Turtles usually nest at night, laying around a hundred eggs at a time. Many are dug up by dogs or poachers, while others are destroyed by eroding sand. Those that do survive take fifty to seventy days to hatch, and when they do, baby turtles emerge at night when there are fewer predators around. Guided by the light of the moon, they head for the sea.

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