Safeguarding Sea Turtles on Curacao
The fact there are ANY sea turtles left on this planet is testament to their dogged determination to survive despite all odds.
The perils that face them on land and sea are legion- and mostly of human creation. And though they’ve been around since the days of the dinosaur, their numbers are continually dwindling at a dangerous rate. The ultimate travelers, they journey hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles each year from foraging grounds to nesting sites. And their journeys are fraught with hazards- rampant pollution, boat propellers, fishing nets, humans who would hunt them for their meat and shells, and of course their natural predators like sharks and killer whales. Female sea turtles most often return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs, but sometimes, after all that travel, the beach has disappeared from development. And you thought your commute was tough!
But as challenging as it is to be an adult sea turtle today, their offspring have it even tougher. It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to maturity. And that is if the egg has even had chance to hatch before it’s been dug up for food or crushed by car tires or machinery used to clean the beaches where the nests are buried. Then, once the eggs do hatch, the baby sea turtles face more obstacles. Their built-in radar directs them to the sea by the light of the moon and the white of the waves. Often, manmade lighting confuses them, and they head the wrong way and later die of dehydration and exposure. But if they do manage go the right way, they also have to outrun waiting seabirds, ghost crabs and even dogs and other animals that enjoy small sea turtles as snacks. And if they finally make it to the water, there also might be large fish waiting for them. It really IS a wonder there are any sea turtles left at all. But fortunately, there are humans here who help them. And you can, too.
There are three types of sea turtles that regularly nest on Curacao from May through December - the green turtle, loggerheads, and the hawksbill- ALL endangered species. Favored spots are Shet Boka, Ascension and Klein Curacao, but they’ve also been spotted at Cas Abou, Kenepa Chikí, and Porto Marie. The Curacao Sea Aquarium has always served as a sea turtle rescue and release station, and has also been a pioneer in the monitoring of sea turtle action on this island in cooperation with Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire and WIDECAST. Also working in cooperation with WIDECAST and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) is CARMABI - the local non-profit nature foundation. Their work in the protection of sea turtles has included pushing important legislation through last May to identify four new “Ramsar” (protected) sites and the banning of destructive gillnet practices in areas where sea turtles are frequently found. They have also set up a special spot for sea turtles at their Marine Education Center headed up by specialist Serbine Berendse who also runs Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao. We asked her how locals and visitors might help safeguard sea turtles here.
She says, “ We always need volunteers. But even if you’re not up for scouring the beaches looking for nests or doing beach and reef clean-ups, you can always help in other ways. Avoid plastic bags, cups, even straws whenever you can, especially when on the beach. They often end up in the water where sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish- their favorite food- and they eat them, which makes them sick and can even kill them! Also, cut up any plastic rings used to hold cans or bottles together so they don’t get caught up on, or even strangle marine life. And please, don’t drive on the beaches, or purchase anything made from turtle shell as a souvenir.”
If you spot an injured sea turtle or a nest; do not touch it. Report it to CARMABI’s SeaTurtle Hotline:
864-0363 or 565-2271 (after office hours), and they will tell you what to do next.
For more information, visit Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao’s Facebook
By Susan Campbell
Follow Susan Campbell’s travels on twitter: @suectravel
Photo credit Chris Richards, Curacao SeaAquarium