Coming Home To Nest
by Jennifer Travis, Park Ranger
Each spring and late summer, sea turtles migrate thousands of miles to nest on St. Croix beaches. Why? Sea turtles nest on their natal beaches as a general rule and, no doubt, picked St. Croix because our beaches have specific characterics - nesting is more successful and/or more common on dark, clean, quiet beaches. Sandy Point is perfect!
Sandy Point was established as a National Wildlife Refuge in order to protect habitat for nesting leatherback sea turtles, to protect the Aklis prehistoric archaeological site, and preserve a stand of the endangered Vahl's boxwood tree.
The Turtle Watch Education Program at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge began in 1997 in order to increase knowledge and awareness of nesting sea turtles and to enhance conservation through education. Facilitated by a US Fish & Wildlife Service Park Ranger, the program is broken into two segments--Nesting Watches and Hatchling Watches. The refuge is closed during this time to protect hatchlings and the Watch program has been designed to mitigate this closure.
For more information call 340-690-9452 or email Jenn at email@example.com
NESTING WATCHES (Mid-April through Mid-June)
Nesting Watches begin at 8 pm and end around midnight. After going over rules and logistics with their guide at the gate, the group drives to the beach, is seated, and waits for the turtle arrival. With an on-going dialogue of turtle facts and biology, the Watch begins. At the right moment, the group watches the turtle emerge from the ocean, body pit, dig the nest, lay the eggs, then tamp and disguise the site.
HATCHLING WATCHES (Late June through July)
Hatchling Watches begin at 5:15 pm and end around 8:30 pm. Groups meet at the Refuge gate, drive to the beach, and are led to and seated around an emerging nest. As the group watches, 6-80 hatchlings climb over each other to get out of their 3' underground nest where they have been for about 60 days. Finally the hatchlings are gathered and released by the group into the swells of the ocean.
Interagency coordination were vital to the success of this program. Mike Evans, SPNWR Manager, attended programs and procured important watch groups. Claudia Lombard, SPNWR Biologist, assisted at evening programs and shared important nesting information. Biologist for USDA Wildlife Services, Toby Hairston, assisted with nesting watches and spoke with groups about predation and invasive species management, VI Geographic Consulting employees relayed turtle emergence during hourly patrols of the beach, and NOAA's Kelly Stewart who was vital to the success of hatchling watches this summer and last.
The Turtle Watch Program will resume in April 2012. School and community groups may call then for reservations. In the meantime, fall happenings include School and youth group field trips and in-class programs and once-weekly Interpretive Nature Walks - 90 minutes, Thursdays at 4 pm, open to the public.
Finally, we are rehabbing the roads and parking lots! Funded by the Federal Highway Administration, this project is expected to be completed by September. Until then, the Refuge will remain closed to the public except for Rangerguided programs. When completed, the beach will be open Saturdays and Sundays (and weekdays when a cruise ship is in port) from 10am to 4pm. There are no facilities at the Refuge. No reservations necessary.