The sun was just rising, the waves softly rolling on to Grande Rivière. We plodded along following the guide, the sand loamy and sticky beneath our feet, the incline steep. Our daughters walked alongside, sleepy but excited about the early morning adventure.
As we got closer, we could hear the soft thrashing of the back fins, almost in synch with the surf. The Leatherback seemed in a trance, digging a deep trench to lay a clutch of about 80-100 soft, white eggs that should hatch in a couple of months.
A few visitors attempted to foolishly hop on the shell and shine flashlights in her eyes, the tour guide was quick to act. As the sun rose the huge silhouette was spot-lit, revealing a scarred shell and those liquid eyes. After about 20 minutes she had successfully covered the nest and slowly returned to the ocean to begin a journey that may take her as far as Canada. Many Leatherbacks return about ten times to nest during the season which peaks from March to June in the island, home to the second largest nesting site in the world.
“Volunteers are responsible for making Trinidad and Tobago’s humble turtle conservation a success story on a global scale. They spend untold hours tagging, counting, and measuring nesting mothers; monitoring and sometimes even relocating nests; and helping safeguard the turtles from predators and threats. Their hard work has caused Leatherback meat and egg poaching to fall to near zero.” A recent National Geographic article stated.
In 1965 the turtle conservation programme started through a collaboration between the University of the West Indies and the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club. In 1989, the Forestry Division developed a co-management partnership with the rural communities where turtles nest, fostering the growth of several community-based organisations. Twenty-eight of them now comprise the Turtle Village Trust. This community-led approach, particularly in Matura and Grande Rivière, has become a model for similar conservation initiatives across the Caribbean. Legislation outlawing turtle hunting in 2011 and declaring sea turtle species as environmentally sensitive in 2014, also helped these efforts, as well as nation-wide educational campaigns.
It’s not surprising that Trinidad and Tobago topped the ‘Best of the World 2023’ for family vacations by National Geographic. The islands are rich in a variety of marine life: turtles and dolphins can be found in waters off the islands on the North Coast of Trinidad to the bays of Tobago; Sting Rays and Manta Rays frequent the waters especially in Tobago at Mount Irvine, Castara and Emerald Bay; and exotic fish thrive in several reefs and inlets. Sea turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but like most local marine life, remain at risk because of pollution, over-fishing and coastal development. Hopefully, through our concerted efforts these protected ecosystems will flourish once again.
Help Save The Turtles
Turtle-watching permits and tours are offered by Nature Seekers, the Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guides Association, the Turtle Village Trust, the Las Cuevas Eco-Friendly Association and partners of SOS Tobago. International volunteers can sign up through organizations like the Oceanic Society and Canadian Sea Turtle Network.