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Tobago Turtle Watching
 

Anyone 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 Tobago’s 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, Englishman’s 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.

  1. Make the minimum of noise - speak softly.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Do not handle turtle eggs.
  5. Do not attempt to ride on the backs of the turtles.
  6. 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 water.

 

To learn more about Tobago visit our other Tobago pages;

bulletAn Introduction to Tobago
bulletTobago Birding Hotspots
bulletTobago Places of Interest
bulletTobago Other Attractions
bulletCastara Baking
bulletBacolet Beach
bulletFort King George
bulletTobago Waterfalls
bulletTobago Kayaking
bulletTobago Camping
bulletTobago Beaches
bulletSnorkeling in Tobago
bulletTobago Surfing

 

 

 

 

 

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Free Tobago Travel Brochures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Tobago Travel Brochures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Last modified: April 15, 2009