Separating fact from fiction: baby turtles on Planet Earth II

Planet Earth II revealed the perils faced by baby turtles in Barbados, but these are offset by the vigilance of local people, says Carla Daniel.

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A hawksbill turtle in the Caribbean

A hawksbill turtle in the Caribbean © Paul Souders / Getty

 

What’s the problem?

Most of the beaches on the south and west coasts of Barbados are affected by lights from homes, hotels and street lamps. These are much brighter than the reflected light of the moon and stars on the sea, the cues that turtle hatchlings use to find their way to the water.

So what happens?

Hatchlings go inland, not to the sea. They fall into drains, are predated by crabs, and in some areas, are crushed by cars.

What can be done?

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project monitors the most important nesting beach on a nightly basis for four months of the year and operates two mobile patrol groups that look out for nesting turtles and hatchlings on 15 other beaches. There is a turtle hotline for the public to use if they see hatchlings wandering inland.

How many hatchlings does this save?

Some 63,000 turtle hatchlings (mainly hawksbills, but a few leatherbacks and green turtles, too) were rescued and returned to the sea in 2016, an increase of about 10,000 on 2015, even though fewer nests were recorded. The project put this down to increased hatchling disorientation but also increased public awareness.

Can you rescue them all?

No. 500–700 hawksbills lay their eggs here every year. With 150 eggs in an average hawksbill nest and each female laying four nests, that’s some 350,000 hatchlings a year!

Is urbanisation having other impacts?

Many developments have left beaches narrower than they used to be. Turtles continue to use them in large numbers, but their nests are more vulnerable to being flooded by extreme weather events. Bycatch of turtles in fishing nets and on hooks is also a problem.

 

This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine

 

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