Native Sea Turtle Population Can Be Brought into Jeopardy
The St. Maarten Nature Foundation recently carried out a wide scale assesment of the threats to St. Maarten’s Native Sea Turtle population which mostly nests at Guana Bay Beach. Over the last two months there have been various activities that have been occuring on Guana Bay which has caused the Nature Foundation to express grave concern on the safety of the island’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches. Threats on Guana Bay are related to two large scale constructions which are occuring there, bonfires and people driving vehicles on the beach.
Each year between March and November, female sea turtles return to lay their eggs on the island. There are three sea turtles which nest on St. Maarten beaches: the Hawksbill Sea Turtle, the Green Sea Turtle and the largest sea turtle species, the Leatherback. Guana Bay Beach is the most important nesting site, with in 2012 42% of all sea turtles having nested on just that one particular beach.
The St. Maarten Nature Foundation actively manages the sea turtle population on St. Maarten, particularly during the nesting season. The Foundation conducts various activities with regards to sea turtle nesting including beach surveys, nest excavations, tagging activities and nest success research. This research is done through beach patrols by staff, volunteer checks and dedicated research activities conducted on a daily basis during nesting season.
Sea turtle population numbers have plummeted to dangerously low numbers throughout the past century due to human impacts, bringing many species close to extinction and causing them to be listed as critically endangered. In order to reverse this trend, all sea turtle species are now protected by international laws and treaties as well as local laws.
During beach surveys the Nature Foundation noticed significant development activity both at Guana Bay Point and along the beach. The two large scale developments have caused significant soil and dirt to get washed into the environment, large boulders to roll unto various areas of sand and has formed large obstructions along the beach. The access path at the southern end of Guana Bay Beach has also been obstructed and poses a serious danger to those using it.
One of the locations where construction has been occuing is historically one of the most important areas for sea turtle nests on Guana Bay Beach. The large scale excavation and disturbance of sand has resulted in a seriously damaged ecosystem for nesting turtles.
Bonfires and beachfront lighting also strongly affects sea turtle hatchlings, luring them inland and away from the sea where they succumb to predators, dehydration, and hatchlings can be attracted to and be burned by the flames.
Trash also is affecting the Beach at Guana Bay. The Nature Foundation has had the gracious help of various organizations and groups in cleaning up the beach, however there is a continuous source of trash being piled along the beach, which is detrimental for beach goers as is it for fauna, in particular sea turtles who can get entangled or who can digest the trash. The Nature Foundation suggests bins be placed along the beach with regular trash collection organized in order to curb the amount of garbage found on Guana Bay.
Driving on the beach is also a significant issue. During patrols the Nature Foundation has continuously noticed tire tracks of vehicles driving on the beach. This is illegal on St. Maarten and carries with it a fine. It is also very detrimental to beach stability and can also crush turtle nests through engine and tire vibration.
The Nature Foundation compiled a report on the activites and has disseminated the report throughout the community and to various governmental and non-governmental departments, in the hope of still saving one of St. Maarten’s most unspoiled and important beaches for sea turtle nestinig. The Foundation urges the community to call its offices on 5444267 if they notice sea turtles nesting or if they notice illegal activities on any of the island’s beaches.