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Students release turtles on Union Island

Students release turtles on Union Island

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Students of Union Island and tourists visiting the Grenadine isle had a funfilled evening on Sunday, October 3, when they released several baby hawkbill turtles.{{more}}

The locals and tourists marveled as hatchlings made their way down the sand and commenced their journey out to sea.

Emma Doyle, a representative of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), currently working on Union Island for the Tobago Cays Sea Turtle Assessment, explained: “After they hatch, sea turtles make a dash across the sand. It’s important that they get to run down the beach, as we believe this helps to set their internal compass so that they know where to return to lay their own eggs. We want to ensure that they come back to these waters in future.

“The tiny turtles then go through a swimming frenzy for a couple of days to reach the open ocean where they hide in amongst floating seaweed and start feeding. They live for many years at sea and then when they’re about 30 cm long, they return to coastal waters and we’ll start to see them feeding in places like the protected reefs of the Tobago Cays Marine Park,” said Doyle.

Doyle explained that beachfront hotels, bars and homes can make small changes in their lighting to help stop hatchlings from getting disorientated. Low pressure sodium vapour lights are yellow rather than white and are more “turtle-friendly”, she said.

Angling the direction of lights or shielding them so that they aren’t visible from the beach also helps hatchlings to start their lives safely. Similarly, motion sensors that switch beachfront lights on only when people are around saves money, reduces coastal lighting, and helps save turtles.

Staff at the Bougainvillea Hotel and the Union Island Secondary School were presented with books and other teaching materials about sea turtles from WIDECAST.

Geography teacher Marcus Wilson was present at the release with his students and commented: “When these turtles come back to nest on the same beach in 20 or more years’ time, those of you who are students now will be responsible for ensuring that that there is still a suitable beach here for the turtles to find.”

When sea turtles hatch, their first instinct is to head towards the natural glow of the open ocean horizon. But with human development on and around beaches it’s now a common problem that turtles and their hatchlings become disoriented and wrongly follow artificial lighting which leads them onto roads, pathways and into bars and hotels.

The chef at the Bougainvillea Hotel, Marcia Richards, described that this is what recently happened with 15 hatchlings.

“Some local children found the baby turtles wandering around and they brought them to us at the hotel. The staff immediately took the turtles into their care and were happy to mind them until they could be released,” said Richards.

Critically endangered by unsustainable levels of use and the loss of habitat, hawksbill turtle populations worldwide have been reduced by more than 80 per cent over the last three sea turtle generations (the equivalent of about 100 years).

The public is advised that anyone finding disoriented hatchlings should place them in a bucket with some damp sand (not water) in the bottom. On Union Island the public can call staff of TCMP, Grenadines Dive or the Environmental Attackers, who will help to release the hatchlings safely at a suitable, dark beach. In other parts of the country, contact the Fisheries Conservation Officer and WIDECAST Country Coordinator, Lucine Edwards at 456-2738.

For more information about sea turtles and how to help them survive see www.widecast.org.

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