Now picture the initial dismay as the very beach beneath their feet began to move and bubble up. And then hear the delighted laughter as these Barbadian guests realized that, in a coordinated effort, a nest of 150 turtle hatchlings was breaking out and heading to the sea. Understanding the importance of this treacherous journey, guests gathered in a protective circle encouraging the baby turtles on their way.
How do I know about this? Over a month earlier, your Uncle Christopher, sitting at the edge of this very beach, was enjoying an evening drink with a friend when an eerie giant black shadow slowly emerged from the sea. Nervous surprise gave way to the recognition that what they were observing was a giant leatherback, the largest of sea turtles, lumbering ashore to lay her eggs. That Christopher and his friend moved quite close to her, mattered not; mama leatherback was on an all-consuming mission, to dig a deep nest, to lay her eggs and to return to the sea. The following day Christopher informed our hotel owner, Bonnie, what had transpired. She swore your Uncle Christopher to secrecy, to tell no one what he had witnessed.
When your Grampa and I arrived at the Casuarina registration desk the next March, Bonnie spotted us and immediately took us aside to relate what had happened at the dinner party. Christopher’s leatherback hatchlings had made it safely to the sea and she wanted him to know.
As trade in turtle shells and turtle meat increased unabated over the years, the hawksbill and leatherback populations plummeted by 90%, bringing these turtles to the level of extinction. In 1987, in an effort to conserve their sea turtle population, the University of the West Indies began the Barbados Sea Turtle Project. Through education programmes geared to both students and adults, the BSTP has impressed upon their nation the importance of saving their sea turtles.
A hotline has been established to the BSTP. Why? Hatchlings instinctively know to break out of their nests when the sands cool as the sun goes down. In the evening there is less chance of predators; no birds to sweep down and claim them as prey; no sand crabs to bite chunks out of them; less chance of being a tasty snack for passing fish. Sadly though, these baby turtles who with their sensitive eyes use the light of the stars and moon to guide them to the sea, now easily become confused by the artificial lights of hotels, restaurants and homes that line the shore. The BTSP hotline has been established so that Barbadians and tourists can report disoriented turtles who have been found on the boardwalk, in the middle of busy roads, in muddy gardens, in pool filters, in crab holes +++.
The few hatchlings who make it to the sea paddle furiously with their tiny flippers to floating seaweed which becomes their initial source of food. Here, tragically all too often baby turtles munch on trapped plastics which kill them by blocking their digestive tracks. You will be happy to know that effective April 1 of this year, Barbados has banned the import, sale and use of all single-use plastics.
Even with all of these efforts in place, it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 hatchlings grow to maturity and after two decades travel back to where they were born to lay their eggs. Yes! Only 1 in 1000 baby turtles survive. 😢
And so, Morgan and Zachary, on March 17 when we have reservations to swim on the west coast with the turtles and after you fall in love with these gentle, friendly, graceful giants of the Caribbean Sea, remind yourself that you are not just swimming with turtles, you are swimming with the survivors of an incredibly treacherous journey.