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HomeNewsArchivesEndangered Turtles Make Rare Visits to Two St. Thomas Beaches

Endangered Turtles Make Rare Visits to Two St. Thomas Beaches

Photo courtesy Island Beachcomber Hotel guest Poul Sondrup Andersen via hotel manager Joel Kling.Two Brewer’s Bay, St. Thomas beachgoers got an unexpected bonus Friday when an endangered leatherback turtle lumbered ashore to lay her eggs. The story was repeated late Saturday and early Sunday morning when another leatherback came ashore at Island Beachcomber Hotel in Lindbergh Bay to spend two hours laying a clutch of eggs.

"It was quite an exciting couple of days," said Renata Platenberg, wildlife biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department.

The turtle at the Island Beachcomber Hotel was spotted by tourists from Denmark who were hanging out at the hotel’s bar on their arrival day.

"A kid looks up and sees what he thinks is a whale, but his mother happened to be a biologist," Platenberg said.

Efforts to reach the vacationers were unsuccessful.

One of the visitors went around to the hotel’s rooms to wake up other guests so they could come out and see the turtle lay her eggs.

"It’s the perfect setting," Platenberg said.

Since this turtle picked a spot right in front of the beach bar, the hotel’s security is keeping an eye on the nest. At the Brewer’s Bay site, Fish and Wildlife put up a fence. Its staff, as well as staff from the nearby University of the Virgin Islands, is keeping tabs on the turtle nest.

In addition to deliberate vandalism, the eggs are prey to damage from beachgoers inadvertently sticking an umbrella in the nest or someone driving over them.

"Vehicles driving over them can crush the nest," Platenberg said.

Vandalism could be an issue, Platenberg said, since turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in West Indian culture. However, she said they’re only desirable when they’re first laid.

"After 24 hours they’re no longer tasty," she said.

According to Platenberg, it’s late in the season for leatherback turtles to nest, but she suggested that it may simply be that the turtles are shifting their birthing dates around, or due to another factor such as climate change.

It’s also unusual for leatherbacks to lay their eggs on St. Thomas, particularly on their south-facing beaches. Leatherbacks usually prefer broader beaches like those found on St. Croix or Culebra, Platenberg said.

"In recent history there haven’t been any leatherbacks on southside beaches," she said.

The visits by the two leatherbacks might be part of a success story that began about 25 years ago with the protection of nesting leatherbacks at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix. When that project began, leatherback turtles were in serious decline, Platenberg said.

Mike Evans of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on St. Croix, which manages Sandy Point, could not be reached for comment.

Additionally, a project at Buck Island Reef National Monument on St. Croix is protecting the hawksbill turtle.

"The hawksbill is active now and on the beach till October," said Zandy Hillis-Starr, Buck Island’s chief of resource management.

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