Sint Maarten confirms first sea turtle nest of the 2024 season

Sint Maarten confirms first sea turtle nest of the 2024 season

The Nature Foundation Sint Maarten has confirmed the first recorded sea turtle nesting incident of the season on Maho Beach.  

Responding to a report from a concerned member of the public, the team investigated the creature’s tracks and eyewitness videos to assert that a leatherback sea turtle had plausibly laid a nest the night of Thursday, April 18.  

The nesting season officially extends from May through December in Sint Maarten, though nesting activity can occur outside of this time. 

The incident marks the first recorded leatherback nesting on Sint Maarten since June 2022, and the first nesting on Maho Beach since 2020.  

Nature Foundation staff measure the tracks, which were about 2 metres wide.

Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), a pelagic species that spends most of its time in the open water in contrast to resident green and hawksbill turtles, are the rarest and earliest nesting species on Sint Maarten. However, sea turtles of any species rarely nest on Maho Beach due to its lack of a vegetation line, short shore and intense human activity.   

“This is quite a rare event,” noted Science Officer Anna Venema. “The moment we walked on the beach and then measured the two-metre-wide tracks, it was obvious that a leatherback, the biggest species of sea turtle in the world, had come to shore on busy Maho Beach.”  

While the presence of eggs could not be confirmed by the Nature Foundation, which conducted an authorised “dig” the next morning, it is likely that the female laid based on the site’s characteristics.  

Digs are carried out to confirm and count the eggs for scientific research, as well as to occasionally relocate them if the environmental manager decides they were laid in a hazardous area.  

Maho Beach, known for its frequent erosion and tourism pressures, is not an ideal site for this nest. However, the site has since been cordoned off and will be supplied with updated signage. If viable, 100 eggs or so are expected to hatch in around 60 days. 

“We are currently busy creating information flyers and folders for nearby hotels and restaurants so that we can reach a bigger audience,” added the Science Officer. “This nest is in a vulnerable spot and needs all the help it can get.”  

The first nest of Sint Maarten’s 2024 nesting season was laid in the middle of Maho Beach by a leatherback, the largest species of sea turtle globally.

The survival rate of sea turtle hatchlings is extremely low, with only some 1 per cent reaching adulthood. To improve their chances, it is imperative that beachgoers and residents avoid disturbing nesting sites.  

The Nature Foundation is urging the public to maintain a minimum distance of 15 metres (50 feet) from nesting sea turtles, keep dogs on a leash, fill in large sand holes, and refrain from using flashlights or bright lights on the beach, except for red or amber lights.  

Leatherbacks, one of three sea turtle species that nest on Sint Maarten’s beaches, are critically endangered and protected locally and internationally. Under local laws, it is illegal to harm, capture or disturb sea turtles or their nesting sites.  

The Nature Foundation reminds residents and visitors to abide by these legal regulations to safeguard these creatures. 

  • PublishedApril 25, 2024

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