Turtle mating and nesting season is upon us, and turtles are frequenting our dive sites more often. Every summer; Loggerheads, Rileys, Green and Hawksbills (Antigua’s national animal), trek their way onto our beaches to lay their eggs. Turtles take up to a couple of decades to mature and be able to reproduce, but after successful mating they will seek out suitable beaches in which to lay. After digging a nest and laying eggs (which can last several hours), these endangered animals make their way back to the oceans leaving their eggs concealed for a few weeks.
These tiny turtles, not much bigger than a dollar coin, dig their way out of the sand and make their way to the water, seeking out sheltered environments in which to safely mature in, before making their way to the nearby reefs or open ocean.
Only a fraction of all hatchlings will make it to adulthood. Birds and bigger fish will pick them off as they make their way to safe grounds. Worst perhaps, people dig up the eggs, which are considered to be a delicacy.
In general, there are quite a few individuals and organizations which dedicate a lot of their time to the preservation of turtles in Antigua. Sadly apart from ocean litter, the decline in numbers here is due to the destruction of costal habitat (mangroves and secluded beaches) in order to build million-dollar real estate. Beaches lit with artificial lights disorientates and confuses them in the laying process.
To see turtles in their natural habitat, cruising along the reefs, is something all divers have on their bucket list, and never tire of seeing. As natural ambassadors of the ocean we continue to do our part in protecting these animals. We report all sightings of illegal gill nets and removal of eggs from laying grounds. Turtles are air-breathing, and it is NEVER ok to hold on to or ride them.
With a recent ban on plastic bags, and a lot of restaurants and bars limiting the distribution of plastic straws; Antigua makes giant steps in giving these animals a fighting chance. And just a reminder, in our waters it is “closed season” 12 months a year for turtles, which includes the eggs. Any violations should be reported to the Antigua Fisheries Department.