USD 40 p/person
Between the months of March and September giant leatherback turtles come ashore to nest each year to Tobago’s immaculate coastlines.
Journeying vast distances across oceans, they find their way back to the precise beach where they were born to lay their eggs at common nesting sites, namely Turtle Beach, Grafton Bay and Stone Haven Bay.
What to expect
The female turtle climbs up the beach to find a suitable nesting site above the tide line and creates a “body pit” through shifting the sand with her powerful flippers, before using her hind flippers to excavate a deeper egg chamber.
The turtle lays between 80 to 100 eggs, which she covers and camouflages with sand to protect it from predators before making her way back down to the ocean.
This process takes place during the night and can take up to two hours.
A female will typically return to the same beach to lay eggs up to nine times during one breeding season.
6 weeks after the eggs are laid it is possible to witness the minuscule turtle hatchlings emerge from the sand and frantically scurry towards the safety of the ocean.
Turtle watching guidelines
Many of the turtle species found on Tobago are critically endangered, as well as being sensitive to even the slightest of disturbances. As such, its vitally important that those taking part in turtle watching, and visitors to the island more generally, familiarise themselves with some basic guidelines that will both ensure the wellbeing of the turtles as well as maximise the experience of all those involved.
Guides will always be on hand to advise about rules and appropriate behaviour:
Turtles are disoriented by bright lights.
Flashlights must be equipped with red L.E.D bulbs or filters and only shone from behind the turtle at key times.
Refrain from pointing a light in a turtle’s face or directly at hatchlings.
Flashlights are not necessary, and it's best to allow your eyes to adjust to the ambient light levels.
Flash photography is prohibited as this blinds turtles and can impede their return to sea.
Infrared photography and low light video recordings are acceptable, but should be kept to a minimum.
- Noise and activity:
Turtles are deterred by noise, so aim to keep as quiet as possible.
Keep any movement to a bare minimum, be sure to stay behind the turtle at all times and keep at a distance of around 20 metres whilst the turtle is digging her nest. Once the turtle has started laying you may be permitted to move closer to catch a glimpse of the eggs.
Take your garbage with you as any debris left on the beach or floating in the sea can choke or trap hatchlings.
- Avoid damaging nests through activities such as driving on beaches, staking umbrellas into the sand, or building sandcastles above the high water mark. Nests are usually well camouflaged and eggs can easily be crushed in these ways.
- Hatchlings: Baby turtles are tiny and easy to tread on in low light, so watch your step! Although it can be tempting, never touch or help a hatchling on its way towards the ocean.
Protecting Tobago’s turtles for future generations
Due to pressures such as coastal development, beach erosion and pollution, the worldwide turtle population is declining at a rapid rate, and it is thought that leatherbacks may become extinct within the next few decades. However, through following the above guidelines and approaching turtle watching with compassion and respect, you are becoming part of the solution towards safeguarding these magnificent creatures.
In Tobago, the Save Our Sea Turtles charity is leading the way in turtle conservation efforts, carrying out valuable work such as monitoring and data collection, anti-poaching patrols, promoting turtle-friendly policies, and spearheading education initiatives.
They also work with tourists, hotels and tour operators to develop and enforce turtle-watching guidelines, train tour guides and help raise awareness about the island’s turtle population. They currently offer guided tours around nesting beaches, as well as volunteer placements related to research and education initiatives. In the near future, the charity is also hoping to expand to offer offshore field trips and overnight camping trips, allowing visitors to gain an even deeper insight into the lives of these inspiring creatures. Read more on their Facebook page...