Preserve Paradise: St. John Sea Turtles

This past weekend local community group “Get Trashed” posted a challenge with real consequences – help pick up the overwhelming amount of trash in Cruz Bay, or else it gets washed out to sea in the approaching storm.  A photo collage (WATCH HERE) of straws caught lying around various Cruz Bay street cracks and grates, ready to be swept out to sea with the next heavy rain, accompanied the post. With the sight of those straws, my mind immediately recalled the image of a crying, but brave sea turtle getting a plastic straw extracted from its nose (seen in the video that went viral last summer). The thought of all of those straws flushing into the ocean made me want to throw up. Like most people, I love sea turtles. I hate knowing that my wastefulness causes harm beyond my imagination.

Charismatic megafauna! Elephants, polar bears, pandas and … sea turtles! Sea turtles fall into that category of animals that we obsess over for their shape, size and wonder. Arguably the mosquito (or even a blue jay) is as interesting as these other animals, but they do not capture the show like the charismatic megafauna. Like the dolphin, for example, whose image, particularly on an island, is used to sell everything from t-shirts to doormats, the sea turtle sells St. John. In turn, we proclaim to love sea turtles.

It is a treat to see a sea turtle swimming. When you are close enough that you can see their seemingly smooth head leaning up to break the surface, and you know they are coming up for air to breath, like us. If you are lucky enough to have a ‘full’ turtle experience you will get to sink back down to the seabed with them once more, slowing down your heart rate to float with the least disturbance. Though people often describe the sea turtles they observe as “peaceful” more accurately, peaceful is how we feel around them. They are romantic, foreign, beautiful, and prehistoric. How old are they anyway? (The sea turtles we know today broke free from their evolutionary peers about 110 million years ago.)

Whatever it is that draws us to sea turtles certainly is as powerful as that which is driving them away. Say what? By driving them away I mean threatening to them. Light pollution, water pollution, marine debris, touching turtles, disturbing their nests – all of these pose real threats to the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles and others that may come to nest, rest, eat and play in our waters. So we love sea turtles, but what do we really do to help them? What can we do?

Nesting season is July through November in Virgin Islands National Park. With the help of the Friends of the Park Sea Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program, we are engaged in our 3rd season of monitoring sea turtle nests in Virgin Islands National Park. Dozens of volunteers guided by Friends’ program coordinator Adren Anderson will patrol all national park beaches during the season. However, this is still limited in its capacity to protect nests against predators and other distractions that can hurt the baby turtles’ chance for survival.

Join the Friends Thursday, July, 19th from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm at the National Park Visitors Center for a free, educational popup seminar to learn more about our sea turtles. Learn more about the habits of this lovely keystone creature from Rafe Boulon, former VINP Chief of Natural Resources and Adren Anderson, VINP Turtle Monitoring program coordinator. They will help you to better understand how humans can support their success in the wild and share valuable information to pass along to friends, family, colleagues, and guests to St. John.

Have You Seen A Turtle Today?

You can help us track and monitor the health of our sea turtle population in one simple way – tell us when and where you see a turtle! Download the “Ranger Hawksbill” app in Google Play or iTunes (free) and click the “Turtle Tracker” to share what you see. We are particularly interested in Hawksbill turtle sightings, as the Green is appearing more common post-hurricanes.

In partnership with Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, St. John Tradewinds has started a new monthly feature, “Preserve Paradise.” Content will focus on the FVINP’s mission to “protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources of Virgin Islands National Park and promote the responsible enjoyment of this unique national treasure while educating and inspiring adults and children to be stewards of the environment.”