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Hawksbills Are Some of the Most Interesting Creatures You’ll See on the Reefs

Have you ever seen a full grown sea turtle and wondered what it looked like when it was born? If you have, then Coral World has a treat for you!

Hawksbill sea turtles are some of the most interesting creatures you will see on the reefs around St. Thomas. They are known for their beautiful shells, which had long been used to make jewerly and other “tortoise shell” items. Because of this, they were hunted to near extinction and are now protected by the Endangered Species Act. This legislation is crucial to their survival and the health of our reefs, because they perform a very important ecological function. Hawksbills eat sponges from the reefs and keep their growth in check. Without these turtles, sponges can grow too quickly and shade the corals from sunlight which they need to survive.

There are many sea turtle nesting sites on beaches around the Virgin Islands, and this is the time of year that the hatchlings begin to emerge. If all goes well, the baby turtles will dig their way out of the nest and crawl into the ocean, where they will hopefully catch an ocean current that can carry them to deeper and safer waters. However, this is not always the case. Some hatchlings wash back up onto shore or are unable to make it to the open ocean with their brothers or sisters. If they are found in places where they are vulnerable to predators and boats, they are brought here to Coral World for temporary rehabilitation and a deep water release.

We currently have 22 hatchling Hawksbills in our temporary care, 11 of which are on public exhibit in the Marine Gardens building. They are all healthy little turtles, most of which weigh less than an ounce. At this early stage of their lives, they are learning how to do the things all turtles need to survive, like diving. Once they grow a little bit larger, we will take them to the open ocean and release them back into the wild. There they will be able grow up to 150 pounds! We hope that each one of these little turtles will grow to be healthy members of the wild population and one day produce many hatchlings of their own.

They need your help too! Baby sea turtles of every species are in trouble because of discarded plastic that ends up in the ocean and becomes ingested by the turtles causing health problems.  Litter ends up in the ocean eventually, and every soda bottle cap or plastic straw that you pick up and put in a trash bin can save a sea turtle’s life. Doing your part to reduce your plastic use, recycling the plastic that you do use, and picking up trash that you see on the ground will keep it from going into a turtle.

So come check out our newest, cutest additions to Marine Gardens and learn some more about sea turtles at Coral World!