Sea Turtle Conservation

Coral World is home to 4 Green Sea Turtles that have been deemed non-releasable by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Three of these turtles hatched from the same nest in October 1997. Their nest was located on Buck Island St. Croix, and was part of the Buck Island Sea Turtle Project; a research initiative studying sea turtle nesting activity of the Buck Island Wildlife Preserve since 1987. During routine nest excavations (a process that involves digging up nests after the primary emergence of hatchling turtles to inventory how many turtles hatched and the success of the nest), nineteen hatchlings remained buried deep within the nest. These hatchlings, without the assistance of their siblings, could not dig to the surface. The hatchlings were brought to Coral World as part of a head-start program that was a popular method of turtle conservation at the time. As the turtles grew, several were released at various life stages. At the time, Coral World did not have sea turtles on display outside of rehabilitation cases, and several governmental organizations requested that we keep up to 6 turtles for educational display.  Three turtles were chosen from the group to be ambassadors for their species: Chelonia, Tartaruga and Tortuga.

Dunkin, named after Tim Duncan born on St. Croix, hatched on East End Bay St. Croix in December 1998. Dunkin’s nest was monitored as part of the Jack’s and East End Bay Sea Turtle Project.  During the excavation and inventory process one hatchling was unsuccessful emerging, and was taken to the St. Croix Aquarium for rehabilitation, and then chosen remain in human care to be a marine ambassador. In August of 2002 the St. Croix Aquarium closed temporarily and the US Fish and Wildlife Service requested her relocation to Coral World.  She was flown via seaplane to Coral World and joined our other turtles in their seaside pool.  Unfortunately, The St. Croix Aquarium never reopened, but Coral World was happy to provide a permanent home to Dunkin.

Coral World serves as a rehabilitation center for injured or sick turtles and even struggling hatchlings that have not found their way out to sea and the safety of mats of Sargassum seaweed.

Each year, Coral World helps dozens of hatchlings reach a safer environment. When tiny hatchling turtles are washed ashore, people often contact Coral World to collect them and our veterinary and rehabilitation staff assures they are in good health before reintroducing them to the wild.  We transport hatchlings offshore by boat and place them in floating mats of Sargassum seaweed to help camouflage the from a predator.

Garbage thrown into the ocean or allowed to find its way there through neglect is a serious threat to marine turtles and most marine life. Young turtles inevitably attempt to eat some of this material, with devastating consequences. Plastic resembles food closely enough to fool even a mature turtle. Ingested plastic is toxic, obstructs the stomach and prevents the turtle from receiving nutrition from real food. This can often lead to a lingering death.

Artificial lighting from buildings, streetlights, and beachfront properties has a disorienting effect on hatchlings who find their way to the sea by the light reflected off the ocean. Even adult turtles can mistakenly move inland after egg laying, and females tend to avoid areas where beachfront lighting is most intense. Turtles also abort nesting attempts more often in lighted areas. So artificial lighting has had profound negative effects on nesting behavior and success. Coral World has worked with local hotels to ensure that their beachfront lighting is designed to avoid disorienting local sea turtles.

Unfortunately for sea turtles in many areas of the world including the West Indies, their eggs and their meat are still highly prized. Even though possession of sea turtles or sea turtle parts without a permit is illegal in the U.S., including the Virgin Islands, it is not illegal in the neighboring British Virgin Islands and some Virgin Islanders, both U.S. and British, still like to eat turtle meat. So poaching is still a problem. Coral World has been involved in many successful rehabilitations of turtles that were caught or injured with intent to be eaten.

Turtles throughout the world are also endangered by the continuing loss of nesting habitat. Research suggests that marine turtles have an extremely high affinity for their nesting beaches so the loss or reduction of even a single nesting beach can have serious effects. The most serious threat is caused by increased human presence on beaches, especially at night, which causes nesting females to try to shift their nesting sites, sometimes to less suitable beaches. Egg laying can be aborted or delayed as well. Recreational use discourages nesting activity on beaches that have been used for millennia. The introduction of recreational equipment such as lounge chairs, umbrellas, small boats, and beach cycles, to name a few, can further reduce the usefulness of a beach for nesting, and can seriously damage or destroy any existing nests. Coral World has made an effort to educate vendors on and visitors to nearby Coki Beach about the importance of watching for nesting activity. When informed of nesting activity on Coki Beach, we have relocated nests to safer locations and assisted hatchlings to make their way to the sea.

Coral World staff members have assisted the Division of Fish and Wildlife with its turtle census and collaborated with other organizations like the West Indian Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service and The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue Network.