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HomeNewsLocal newsTraining Sessions Scheduled for STJ Sea Turtle Program Volunteers on June 18...

Training Sessions Scheduled for STJ Sea Turtle Program Volunteers on June 18 and 22

Are you a morning person? A nature lover? And a resident of St. John?

If so, you may be a perfect candidate to join the Virgin Islands National Park Sea Turtle Program sponsored by the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.

Training sessions for new recruits will be held on Tuesday, June 18, and Saturday, June 22, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Cinnamon Bay. Send an email to vinp@friendvinp.org to RSVP.

The sea turtle patrol season begins in July and ends in December. Volunteers generally commit to patrolling a particular beach early in the morning on a particular day to spot nesting activity held the night before.

Willow Melamet, who heads up the VINP Sea Turtle program, presents a slide presentation to returning volunteers last week. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

When volunteers see the tell-tale tracks on the beach indicating that a sea turtle has come ashore to lay her eggs, they phone Willow Melamet, the sea turtle program director.  Melamet then arrives on the scene to secure the nesting site, and everyone waits with varying degrees of patience for about two months for the eggs to incubate and then hatch.

Most volunteers agree that there are few things more gratifying than watching baby sea turtles crawl out of their nests, wobble across the sand and slip into the sea where they will spend their entire lives except for females when they nest.

Three types of sea turtles nest in the Virgin Islands ­– hawksbills, greens, and leatherbacks. On St. John, the majority of nests are made by Hawksbill turtles, and the VINP Sea Turtle Program does all that it can to protect this critically endangered species.

Three types of turtles nest in the Virgin Islands. (Slide from an online meeting held by VINP Sea Turtle Program in 2022)

In past years, experts have estimated that only one in a thousand hatchlings makes it to adulthood. More recently, the odds are even worse as climate change and rising sea levels affect turtle nesting sites. Scientists now estimate that as few as one in five thousand may survive.

During the 2023 nesting season, volunteers in the VINP Sea Turtle Program confirmed that 29 nests were laid, resulting in nearly 2,500 hatchlings making it to the sea.

An overview of the 2023-24 nesting season indicates that 95 volunteers put in more than 1,572 hours patrolling 42 beaches on St. John. (Submitted photo)

In addition to securing nests from predators and recording the number of successful hatchlings, program staff work with a number of agencies to identify individual turtles and monitor their health, conduct genetic research, and rescue turtles that are injured in boat strikes.

Last year, dozens of volunteers monitored 42 beaches on St. John, and the program staff hopes to match this record. Melamet is particularly looking forward to this season’s activity.

Volunteers help locate turtle nests, which are then screened from predators until the hatchlings emerge in about two months. (Slide from an online meeting held by VINP Sea Turtle Program in 2022)

Program records since 2016 indicate that female hawksbill turtles tend to return in three-year cycles to lay their eggs on St. John. Records show that certain turtles come to the very same spots they went to in previous years. As 2021 was a very active year, with 35 confirmed nests, Melamet is hoping to have a banner year again this season.

Hawksbill turtles, like the one in this photo, are critically endangered. (Slide from an online meeting held by VINP Sea Turtle Program in 2022)

 

 

 

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