Environment: A leatherback turtle spotted on Maho beach

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The Nature Foundation Sint Maarten has confirmed that a leatherback turtle likely laid a nest on the night of Wednesday April 17 to Thursday April 18 on the busy Maho Beach.

This is the first leatherback turtle nesting recorded on Sint Maarten since June 2022, and the first nesting on Maho Beach since 2020.

The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), a pelagic species that spends most of its time in open water, unlike green turtles and hawksbill turtles, is the rarest and earliest species to nest on Sint Maarten. However, sea turtles of all species rarely nest on Maho Beach due to the absence of a vegetation line, the short length of the shoreline and the intense human activity.

“This is a fairly rare event,” said scientific officer Anna Venema. “As soon as we walked the beach and measured the two meter wide tracks, it was clear that a leatherback turtle, the largest species of sea turtle in the world, had washed up on the busy Maho Beach Beach”.

Although the presence of eggs could not be confirmed by the Foundation, which carried out an authorized “excavation” the following morning, it is likely that the female had laid eggs given the characteristics of the site. Excavations are carried out to confirm and count eggs for scientific research purposes, as well as occasionally moving them if the environmental manager believes they were laid in a dangerous area. Maho Beach, known for its frequent erosion and tourist pressure, is not an ideal site for this nest. However, the site has since been fenced off and will have updated signage. If the nest is viable, around a hundred eggs should hatch in around sixty days.

“We are currently busy creating information leaflets and brochures for hotels and restaurants in the surrounding area to reach a wider audience,” added the scientific manager. “This nest is vulnerable and needs all the help it can get.”

The leatherback turtle, one of three species of sea turtles that nest on the island's beaches, is critically endangered and protected locally and internationally. Local law prohibits harming, capturing or disturbing sea turtles or their nesting sites. The Nature Foundation reminds residents and visitors that they must follow these legal provisions to protect these creatures. _AF

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