Let me tell you about our sea turtle holiday experience. Sea turtles were something we had only seen on TV wildlife programmes. However, during one of our holidays, staying on the west coast of Barbados, we were lucky enough to have a truly magnificent and unforgettable experience. Around 7.45 one evening we had just taken our seats on the decking outside one of the beachfront restaurants in Holetown, when we spotted a large dark brown shape, dimly illuminated by the restaurant’s lights, on the shoreline nearby. We thought at first that it might be a large crab or a ray swimming in the shallows. As it came closer, much to our joy and amazement, this soon revealed itself to be a hawksbill sea turtle.
The turtle made its way slowly past us, on the sand by the restaurant, before making its way back into the sea. We felt very lucky to have seen the turtle up close and we thought that was the end of it. However, within a matter of minutes the turtle reappeared from the sea and once again made its way up the beach towards us. Clearly, the turtle was looking for somewhere to lay her eggs. She chose a spot on the sand and started to dig a hole in the shelter of some sun loungers that were stacked on the beach. She was only a few metres away from us. Her back flippers scattered the sand all around and she dug for well over an hour before starting to lay her eggs. During this time the restaurant staff had called the people at the Barbados Sea Turtle Project. They duly arrived with special red light torches, measuring devices, laptop computers and so on.
After the sea turtle had finished laying her eggs and whilst she was still in situ, the Barbados Sea Turtle Project people collected the majority of the eggs in a cardboard box with the intention of taking them away to a quieter, more secluded beach at Six Men’s Bay – further north along the west coast. Here they would, hopefully, hatch out after approximately 60 days. The number of eggs in a nest varies depending on the species of turtle. On average, sea turtles lay 110 eggs in a nest and the largest clutches are laid by hawksbills, which may lay over 200 eggs in a nest.
Another hour passed and the restaurant staff were waiting to close up, however, we all stayed on to make sure that the turtle managed to cover the remaining eggs and make it back into the sea safely (without ‘turning turtle’ on the steep slope of sand piled up between her nest and the sea). Not surprisingly the turtle was pretty exhausted by the whole process. The restaurant owner helped to fill in the hole that the turtle had dug. With a few last swishes of her back flippers the turtle satisfied herself that her eggs were now safely covered and without checking or looking back at the nest, she turned and slipped down the slope of sand, into the sea and swam off into the darkness.
It really was a night to remember for us. If you’d like to experience turtles ‘up close and personal’ then Barbados certainly is the place to do it. For both locals and visitors alike, feeding and swimming with the turtles is an extremely popular and exciting attraction. People of all ages enjoy the experience. Barbados is very special because there is hardly anywhere else in the world where you can interact with sea turtles in their natural environment.
The hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles call Barbados home and are readily seen along the west coast where they do their feeding and nesting. Due to the calmness of the west coast waters and the friendliness of the sea turtles, people are able to swim freely with them. You can swim with the turtles in many spots dotted all around the island. Grab your snorkelling gear and head out to where you see the tourist boats feeding the turtles and you are bound to catch a glimpse of at least one of these magnificent giants.
Because the sea is so crystal clear on the west coast, if you wish to simply paddle with the turtles, Paynes Bay and Alleynes Bay are just a couple of the good locations for doing this. The turtles will come in very close to the shoreline and you will see them swimming around even if you are only up to your waist in water.
A wide range of cruises and tours, to suit all budgets and requirements, are on offer. They will take you swimming with the turtles – as well as with countless other types of colourful tropical fish. Whilst on some of the catamaran cruises you will also be able to explore underwater shipwrecks. Most tour operators provide snorkelling equipment such as life jackets, masks, snorkels and fins as part of the all-inclusive sailing packages they offer. You can have lunch and drinks onboard as you sail down the beautiful coastline, one of our favourites is SEADUCED. If you don’t want to get wet, you can still enjoy the magic in a glass bottom boat or even a submarine.
Interesting turtle fact #1: When it’s time for them to make their nests, they return to the beaches that they themselves hatched on 20 to 30 years previously.
Interesting turtle fact #2: The sex of the turtle depends on the temperature of the sand. A cooler temperature produces male turtles and warmer temperatures produce females. Hatchlings usually emerge between 6pm and 6am.
Turtles emerge from the water every 2 to 5 years and make 4 to 6 nests during the season. However, successfully making it to adulthood is a serious challenge. After the eggs have been laid, if the nest isn’t far enough from the water’s edge, the salt water will kill the developing embryos. Even if they manage to make the perilous journey from egg to sea, it’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood as they have so many predators.
Turtles are easily disturbed whilst nesting so if like us, you are lucky enough to witness turtle activity, call the Sea Turtle Hotline. The number to call is : +1 (246) 2300142 and the project’s trained personnel will come and record the nesting event and take data. Additionally, you can call the Hotline if you are interested in witnessing the release of turtle hatchlings. They keep an up-to-date list of names, with contact information of interested persons, and will call to inform you of where and when you can observe this very special event. All of the information is available on the web site of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project.
There are some lovely turtle themed souvenirs available from Best of Barbados and a superb range of educational children’s books – like “Turtle Tracks”, by Sue Trew.
The turtles of Barbados have a very special kind of magic. To see them in their natural environment is a beautiful thing, so do take the opportunity to meet these wonderful creatures. We’re glad that we did. No matter how many times we see them, it’s still enchanting.
To find places to stay where you are likely to experience turtle activity, contact Paradise Rentals – there as some obvious options (the clue is in the name!) Turtle Beach at Speightstown and Turtle Reef at Mullins, but many other lovely holiday properties have beach access, like 11 Reeds House and Graceville.
You can indulge in a spot of “turtle watching” from your balcony!
Written by Peter.