Nesting beaches under threat
IT WASN’T TOO long ago that the sight of the small head bobbing in the waters of the south coast, or anywhere else around the island for that matter, would have been considered a big deal.
A few decades ago, sea turtles in the island’s waters were such a rare sight that they were considered critically endangered.
But now, thanks to the efforts of one organisation and a number of tireless volunteers, anyone diving, swimming or even watching a surfing contest can catch sight of these beautiful marine creatures.
The Barbados Sea Turtle Project,a collaborative effort between the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Government’s Fisheries Division, has been leading the fight to restore the marine turtles to their place of glory in our waters.
Professor of Conservation Ecology at UWI, Julia Horrocks, who is also the director of the project, explained that Barbados can now lay claim to having the largest nesting population of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean.
And it is upon them, the most endangered of marine turtles in the Caribbean which were hunted and butchered for their shells, that the Barbados Sea Turtle Project focuses its efforts.
“However, our beaches, the nesting habitat for sea turtles, are under greater threat than those in Mexico (which has the largest population).
“Many nesting beaches on the west coast have eroded or have been rendered unusable for nesting as a consequence of remedial efforts to protect properties,” Horrocks said.“Although more than 400 hawksbills have been recorded nesting in Barbados in recent years, over the same time period the percentage of nests that are lost entirely due to washout has increased dramatically,” she said.
In addition, beachfront lighting from hotels and condominiums disorients the thousands of hatchlings each year and even with human intervention, mortality rates are very high.
Marine biologist and experienced diver Andre Miller puts it this way: “Poor development along the south and west coasts still poses a big problem and we lose thousands of eggs each year.”
Horrocks explained the negative effects of this loss will not be known for a few decades.
“But it is inevitable unless greater efforts, including tougher legislative protection, are made to conserve remaining beaches in a manner that is suitable for sea turtle nesting.
“Deteriorating beach quality has implications for the sustainability of turtle populations around Barbados and hence their use for economic gain,” she said.
Horrocks pointed to the important role turtles play, not only in wooing tourists to our waters to see them frolicking, but in the ecological life of a reef.
Hawksbill turtles eat mainly sponges; sponges and corals compete for space on a reef, but since sponges tend to grow over corals, the feeding habits of the hawksbills gives corals a fighting chance at survival.