snorkelling the reefs of Tobago has a good chance of seeing marine turtles swimming among
the reefs, as Tobago is home to the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle. Hawksbill
turtles are named after their beak which looks like the bill of a hawk, although some
persons refer to them as oxbill turtles. Hawksbill turtles prefer to live in the clear
shallow waters of costal bays and on the inside of coral reefs where they eat sponges,
corals and other invertebrates. These turtles can weigh up to 200 pounds with a hard
elliptical shell made of overlapping plates that are coloured amber and streaked with
brown, black, yellow or red. Unfortunately that beautiful shell causes hawksbills to be
hunted because the shell can be used to make a variety of ornamental items and some
individuals prize the meat for eating. This hunting has caused the Hawksbill turtle to be
placed on the endangered species list.
The other turtle regularly seen by those who snorkel in the ocean off Tobago is the
Green Turtle and it is also on the endangered species list. Green turtles prefer to live
in warm shallow water where there is an abundance of sea grass as they feed on the sea
grasses and algae. Green sea turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds and have a hard oval shell
that is olive brown in colour with streaks of green and brown. It is endangered because
its shell is also prized and because of hunting for its meat.
For anyone snorkelling around Tobagos reefs,
turtle watching is an enjoyable event. However an even more visually dramatic event takes
place each year as these turtles slowly come onto the beaches of Tobago to lay their eggs
and this becomes the prime time for turtle watching. The Hawksbill and Green turtles are
joined in their nesting activities by the giant Leatherback turtles
The leatherback turtle is the most visually dramatic of the turtles that nest in Trinidad
and Tobago because of their size. Adults can vary in size from 600 pounds to 2,000 pounds.
Leatherback turtles are so named because of they have a dark rubbery shell that resembles
leather with seven narrow ridges. These giant turtles roam the oceans eating jelly fish
however the female leatherback turtle always returns to the same beach where they were
born for laying their eggs.Male leatherback turtles never return to land after they
enter the sea at birth. On the beach the female turtle will dig an egg chamber with her
flippers and then lay between 80 to 100 eggs. After laying, the female
leatherback covers the chamber with sand and then smoothes over the area to disguise
the chamber. A female will visit and lay up to eight times during the nesting season.
Turtle nesting season in Tobago runs from January to September with the season getting
into full swing from March and the peak period for turtle nesting being May and June as
these months have the highest concentration of nesting turtles. Nesting takes place at
night although some turtles are occasionally seen during the daylight.
The beaches prized by all three of these turtles for nesting are those
with a steep profile backed by a flat sandy top as the steep profile enables the turtles
to more easily get from the water to the sandy top during high tide. The majority of the
turtle nesting beaches are on the Leeward (western) coast of Tobago with the aptly named,
Turtle Beach, being the prime nesting site. Turtle Beach however is not the only nesting
site and the other beaches include Grange
Beach, Little Back Bay, Stonehaven Bay, Courland Bay, Castara Bay, Englishmans Bay, Parlatuvier Bay, Bloody Bay and Man-O-War Bay (Charlotteville). On the
Windward coast the beaches where nesting turtles are found include Anse Bateau
(Speyside), Starwood Bay (Speyside) and Pinfold Bay near Goodwood. The prime turtle
beaches of Grange Bay, Stonehaven Bay, Grafton Beach, Turtle Beach and Courland bay are
turtle protected beaches at night and so you must go with a certified tour guide for the
turtle watching on those beaches.
Turtles are easily deterred when coming ashore to nest, especially by
lights, therefore there are certain guidelines for watching the nesting of turtles to
protect this endangered species.
- Make the minimum of noise - speak softly.
- When turtles emerge from the sea there should be absolute silence and no lights should
be put on, this includes video camera lights and camera flash.
- A distance of 15 meters should be kept until the nest is prepared and the laying process
has begun. Observers should approach quietly and care must be taken to prevent the nests
from caving in.
- Do not handle turtle eggs.
- Do not attempt to ride on the backs of the turtles.
- Photographs can be taken in moderation only when the turtles are returning to the sea.
Viewing turtle hatching while not as dramatic as the nesting is also an
enjoyable activity. The young turtles begin hatching approximately 60 days after the eggs
are laid. As soon as they hatch the young turtles climb through the sand onto the beach
and immediately head for the water. Upon entering the sea, the young turtles head for deep