Help Our Sea Turtle Saviors

Aruba has four species of endangered sea turtles returning to its beaches each year to nest between March and October: the leatherback, the loggerhead, the green, and the hawksbill. And they all need human help.
“Aruba has many repeat visitors,” says Edith van der Wal, “But the leatherback is one of the oldest repeat guests. Female sea turtles generally return to the beach where they were born to nest, and the leatherbacks have been coming back here for thousands of years.”

Edith has become Aruba’s premier sea turtle savior and president of the Turtugaruba Foundation. She co-founded the foundation along with her husband in 2003 after seeing scads of baby sea turtles crushed on a road since they went the wrong way due to artificial lighting after hatching. Switching off or reducing lighting on a sea turtle nesting beach is of the utmost importance.

Hatchlings typically pop out of their nest during the night, and they are drawn to the white of the waves and the reflection of celestial light from the moon in order to travel in the right direction to get to the sea. Bright artificial lighting – prevalent in the resort area beaches – can really disorient them. They can end up stranded far from the water, and die of dehydration, or are easily picked off by birds and crabs, and even cats and dogs. There are many perils facing baby sea turtles. In fact, it’s estimated that only one out of every 1,000 will make it to maturity! Those are disheartening odds for sea turtle lovers.

But thankfully there are organizations in place to help increase those odds. Turtugaruba works closely with WIDECAST (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) to learn best practices and to help educate tourists, locals, and business owners alike on how to protect and encourage successful nesting of the endangered sea turtle population.They also collect data, and set up barricades to keep the public away from the nests to protect the eggs during their incubation. If you see red and white wooden enclosures along the beaches, that’s what they are, so please don’t disturb them.

Edith says,“Once in a blue moon we will get to witness one of the gentle giants laying eggs in the daytime, but typically they come in at night. Hatching takes place 60-70 days later. Watching the tiny turtles emerge from the sand is an amazing experience that we’re always happy to share with our guests as long as they respect the rules like no flash photography, and no touching.”

And there is a lot you can do to help sea turtles, too!

Never drive motorized vehicles on the beach to avoid crushing unseen nests. Also, don’t leave things on the beach at night that might get in the way of a hatching or nesting sea turtle. Avoid the use of plastic bags, especially near a beach. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags as their favorite snack of jellyfish, which is often fatal for our endangered friends.

If you see a nesting sea turtle or a nest, please report it to the Turtugaruba’s 24-hour Turtle Hotline: 592-9393. And volunteers are ALWAYS welcome to help the foundation do their important work. So, let’s all work together to ensure sea turtles will be a part of Aruba’s rich natural legacy for many generations to come.

Visit Turtugaruba.

For even more pertinent sea turtle help information visit WIDECAST.