Turtle Patrols

Leatherback TurtleThe leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest of all living turtles, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles. Mature males and female leatherbacks can reach between 4 to 8 feet in length and weigh almost 2000 pounds.

Female leatherbacks lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs on sandy, tropical beaches. These females nest several times during a nesting season, typically at 8-12 day intervals. After 60-65 days, leatherback hatchlings, approximately 50-77 cm (2-3 inches) in length, emerge from the nest and make their way haphazardly towards the sea.

Currently, Trinidad supports more than 80% of all leatherback sea turtle nesting within the Caribbean Sea Region. The island boasts of hosting the world’s 2nd largest population, the largest being the French Guiana/Suriname population. With an estimated 6,000 leatherbacks nesting annually in Trinidad the majority of this activity is concentrated on the north and east coasts of the island.

Adult leatherback turtles have few natural predators. When they come ashore during the nesting season they are particularly vulnerable to human opportunists. Trinidad, like nesting sites world over, has seen declines in its leatherback nesting numbers prior to the 1980’s. This decline was believed primarily to be the result of exploitation by humans for the eggs and meat, as well as incidental take in fisheries practices. Other factors threatening these leatherbacks included loss or degradation of nesting habitat from coastal development; disorientation of hatchlings by beachfront lighting; excessive nest predation by native and non-native predators; marine pollution and debris; and watercraft strikes. Although some of the threats remain, the poaching of the females and their eggs, while on land has diminished significantly and the increase in population witnessed in Trinidad since that time, can be attributed in part to this success factor.

The “Protection of Nesting Leatherback Turtles at Manzanilla Beach in Trinidad Project” has built on the above success factor and continued to provide safeguards for the nesting leatherbacks, through night patrols and the provision of guidance to the public, for the protection of the critically endangered turtles, when they came ashore at the Manzanilla Beach.

See “Report on Protection of Nesting Leatherback Turtles at Manzanilla Beach” (An IFAW supported Project).