Sea turtles have a rich and fascinating history dating back more than 150 million years. These creatures have witnessed the evolution of the oceans and have survived countless climatic changes and catastrophic events over the millennia. This makes it extra unique to see them whilst diving here in Bonaire’s national marine park!
As captivating creatures that have roamed the world’s oceans for millions of years, sea turtles play a vital role in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems.
In today’s blog, we want to share with you their significance and nesting habits, how Bonaire protects sea turtles and what we can do to protect these animals. Are you ready to become a sea turtle expert? Just keep reading!
What makes sea turtles special?
Sea turtles are unique marine reptiles that have evolved to life in the ocean. They possess several distinguishing adaptations that set them apart from other marine life.
One of their most recognizable traits is their streamlined body, designed for efficient swimming through the water. This is partially thanks also to their modified legs in the form of large flippers that allow them to travel thousands of kilometers across our oceans easily, quickly and with almost no effort.
Did you know that unlike other reptiles and their relatives (land turtles and river turtles), sea turtles cannot retract their limbs and head into their shells? Instead, they developed a hard protective shell called a carapace, which shields them from predators, although unfortunately for them it does not exempt them from being a delicacy for some apex predators such as sharks and killer whales in the sea and several species of mammals on land.
There are seven recognized species of sea turtles found across the world. These are the green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, olive ridley, kemp’s ridley, and flatback. Each species has its own unique characteristics and habitat preferences, contributing to the rich biodiversity of the world’s oceans.
The importance of these ancient creatures
Sea turtles play a crucial role in marine ecosystems. They help maintain healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs by grazing on algae and controlling population levels of their prey. Additionally, their eggs and hatchlings provide nutrients to the beaches and surrounding ecosystems when they hatch and return to the ocean. Moreover, sea turtles serve as indicators of the overall health of the marine environment. Their decline in numbers can indicate disturbances or imbalances in the ecosystem.
Forming new generations
Female sea turtles return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. They use their flippers to dig nests in the sand, carefully depositing their eggs before covering them and returning to the ocean. The nesting process is a delicate and vulnerable time for the turtles, as they are susceptible to predation and human interference. After an incubation period of around 50 to 60 days, the hatchlings emerge and make their way to the water, facing numerous challenges during their journey.
Sea turtles on Bonaire
Can we find sea turtles on Bonaire? Well, let me happily tell you that the answer is YES. We can find three of the seven species in the surrounding waters: the green turtle, hawksbill turtle and loggerhead turtle. People of Bonaire are able to encounter adult males and females while diving, snorkelling or boat sailing as they congregate in the open waters around Bonaire for several weeks in courtship and mating either at the surface or at some meters depth. Bonaire’s locals and tourists are lucky because sea turtles can be seen year-round here in divers’ paradise! Though, from April to December there are higher chances of finding them both underwater and on the shore as females of the three species will start going out to the beaches to lay their eggs on an average of 3 to 6 clutches of nests. They are able to deposit a range of 100 to 180 eggs per nest, depending on the species.
Magic happens after about 60 days when a group of enthusiastic hatchlings will join forces to reach the surface and begin their race for survival. They go into the sea fighting against the elements such as prowling predators, the stifling heat of the sand and even their own physical conditions.
What do you know about Sea Turtle Conservation in Bonaire?
Located in the Caribbean, Bonaire is a true haven for sea turtles. That’s why on the island we can find the Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB). This is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of sea turtles on the island. STCB works tirelessly to monitor nesting activities, protect nests from predation, and educate the local community and visitors about the importance of sea turtle conservation. Their efforts have led to a significant increase in sea turtle populations in the region. STCB uses best practices in science and conservation to build knowledge and protection of Bonaire’s sea turtles. They share their knowledge to raise awareness, affect policy and build support for biodiversity protection.
For those who come to Bonaire and want to know more about sea turtles or get to know more about the great work that STCB do here, you should check out their website. Have a look at the different options they offer for those who would like to volunteer while being on the island. Be sure to check out their social media for updates on their biweekly free presentations for more information!
Dive sites for sea turtle encounters:
Bonaire offers some of the most spectacular dive sites for encountering sea turtles. Sites such as Salt Pier, Margate Bay or La Dania’s Leap are known for their abundance of marine life, including these magnificent creatures.
You are more than welcome to join us on one of our guided dives by asking for the option to dive at one of the sites where we know there is a good chance of finding them. Diving with sea turtles in their natural habitat is one of those unique moments that every diver should experience at least once in a lifetime. Witness their graceful movements and marvel at their beauty.
How can we help and protect sea turtles?
There are several ways that we as individuals, nature lovers and divers can contribute to sea turtle conservation:
- Being a responsible tourist. When visiting sea turtle habitats, it’s crucial to follow responsible tourism practices. This includes maintaining a safe distance, not touching or disturbing the turtles, and refraining from littering or polluting the ocean.
- Reducing our plastic usage. Marine debris and single-use plastic, pose a significant threat to sea turtles. By reducing our consumption of single-use plastics and properly disposing of waste, we can prevent it from ending up in the ocean.
- Supporting conservation organizations. Consider donating to or volunteering with organizations like STCB or other sea turtle conservation groups. These organizations rely on public support to continue their crucial conservation efforts.
- Spreading the awareness. Sharing information about sea turtles and their conservation with friends, family, and on social media platforms gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and encourage others to join the cause.
By understanding their unique characteristics, supporting conservation efforts, and adopting responsible practices, we can ensure the survival of these ancient animals. Let’s unite to protect and conserve our sea turtles. For the sake of our oceans and for both their and our future generations. I like turtles!