The volcanic island of St. Eustatius, a.k.a. Statia, a jewel in the Dutch Caribbean, holds a special place in the hearts of nature lovers and marine biologists. On the shores of Zeelandia Beach, a timeless drama unfolds – the nesting and hatching of sea turtles. These magnificent creatures, survivors from the age of dinosaurs, weave a tale of resilience and wonder. After we dived into the various species and their nesting behaviour, we will present sea turtle conservation on St. Eustatius, Caribbean Netherlands. In December 2022, a special beach clean-up was organised by STENAPA and funded by Diergaarde Blijdorp. We had the pleasure of filming the event and creating a story around the message: Let’s clean up the ocean and shores to save our sea turtles.

Sea turtles, St. Eustatius

Statia boasts three main visitors to its nesting grounds: the green turtle, the hawksbill, and the occasional leatherback. Green turtles, named for the green colour of their fat, are the most frequent guests. Their graceful forms emerge from the ocean depths, drawn by an invisible tether to lay their eggs on the very beach where they hatched decades ago. Hawksbills, with their captivating patterned shells, arrive to deposit their clutches as well. Less frequent, are the leatherbacks – the largest sea turtles on Earth – their leathery carapaces a testament to their deep-sea journeys.

Nesting in the Caribbean

Under the starry Caribbean sky, a gravid female hauls herself onto the beach, a prehistoric ballet guided by an ancient map in her DNA. With powerful forelimbs, she excavates a nest in the cool sand, a safe haven for the clutch of leathery eggs she carries within. Each egg holds the promise of new life, a tiny spark waiting to ignite. After meticulously camouflaging the nest, she retreats to the sea, leaving her precious cargo behind.

Weeks to months later the magic unfolds. The eggs, warmed by the sun’s rays, begin to stir. Tiny hatchlings, driven by an unyielding instinct, erupt from the sand in a flurry of activity. Their flippers paddle furiously as they surge towards the beckoning waves. This seemingly short journey is fraught with danger. Ghost crabs scuttle along the beach, snatching at vulnerable hatchlings. Hungry birds circle overhead, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Yet, with unwavering determination, the hatchlings press on, their tiny bodies a testament to the enduring power of life. Reaching the water’s edge presents a new set of challenges. Strong currents can sweep them far from suitable habitats, and predatory fish lurk beneath the surface. Only a tiny fraction will survive to adulthood, a stark reminder of the delicate balance of life in the ocean.

Sea turtle conservation on Statia

On the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, dedicated efforts are underway to tip the scales in favour of these vulnerable creatures. The St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) plays a vital role. Nightly patrols monitor nesting beaches, deterring predators and relocating nests threatened by erosion. Educational programs raise awareness among locals and tourists, fostering a sense of responsibility towards these gentle giants. The nesting season varies per species. The sea turtle coordinator of STENAPA patrols the beaches, records turtle activities and coordinates the volunteers and conservation efforts from June to December.


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Beach clean-up, December 2022

One of these activities took place at the end of 2022: Beach clean-up and get-together at the office of STENAPA (St. Eustatius National Parks). The marine park manager, Eleanor Butler, explains why they chose the Atlantic side of the island for this sea turtle conservation event and the threats plastic poses for nesting turtles not only in the Caribbean.

„Zeelandia is one of our prime nesting beaches for our sea turtles and we have both hawksbills and green turtles that come to nest here. So the reason that we want to clean up the beach today is because ocean plastic can cause a lot of problems for nesting sea turtles.

One of the reasons for this is that the sea turtle hatchlings can get entangled in the plastic on their way down to the ocean. It can also cause a blockage for them when they’re trying to run down to the Sea.

Also microplastic which breaks down in the sunlight can find its way into the sea turtle nests and absorb the energy and the heat from the sun. This heats up the sea turtle nest causing high mortality rates for the baby turtles.

This beach cleanup has been organized by STENAPA with funding from Zoo Rotterdam / Diergaarde Blijdorp and their visitors. The visitors have chosen their donations to be allocated towards sea turtle conservation on Statia.“

In the end, more than 200 kg of plastic, including lots of microplastic, was collected by 54 volunteers. After hours on the beach and the surrounding bushland, STENAPA thanked all participants with a BBQ at their office.

Additional information: Sea turtle conservation, St. Eustatius, Caribbean Netherlands

Devocean Pictures: Statia Baby Shower – Hatching hawksbill turtles

STENAPA: Sea turtle conservation program on St. Eustatius

Diergaarde Blijdorp: Facebook post regarding the clean-up

Devocean Pictures: Statia‘s sea turtles 1: Species, sex & individuals

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