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WRAPPING UP THE SEA TURTLE NESTING SEASON
Thursday 20th December 2012

EAG Board Member, Nicola Nash, with a nesting Hawksbill Turtle.  Photo courtesy of Mari Gramling.

Article by Nicola Nash

As the year comes to a close, so does our 2012 season for nesting sea turtles in Antigua. There were several interesting and new developments this year, and thanks to the help of EAG volunteers and various sea turtle supporters, many tourists and locals were able to witness the incredible events of mother sea turtles nesting and babies hatching. For all those who participated in patrolling and helped to report sightings, our sincerest thanks on behalf of the EAG.
 
On the mainland, there were several beaches where crawls (mother turtle tracks), nests, and baby hatchlings were monitored or reported this year. During the Leatherback season (February to June), several nests were found on Jabberwock and Galley Bay, and various Leatherback tracks - which are much larger than Hawksbill or Green tracks - were sighted at Rendezvous Bay and other southern beaches.
 
A big event this year was the nesting of a Leatherback on Dickenson Bay, right in front of the Sandals hotel! During the nest hatch, trained EAG members were on-hand to witness the emergence and provide information and guidance to visitors who witnessed the momentous event.
 
Hawksbill and Green nesting activities were also recorded around the island. Genetic samples were taken from Hawksbills as part of an ongoing project to evaluate the relatedness of Hawksbills on the mainland, Long Island, and Barbuda. This study was led by Kate Levasseur, a graduate student and former researcher with the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project. With a helping hand from other team members, Kate also completed a two-day survey of Barbuda, looking for crawls and nests along the island’s coastline.
 
The highest concentration of Hawksbill nesting occurred on Long Island, where Hawksbills have been monitored since 1987. This season, from 1st June 1 to 16th November, 71 mother Hawksbills nested at least once on Long Island, laying nearly 250 nests. Seventeen of these turtles were neophytes, or first-time nesters, returning to the same beach from which they originally hatched about 15–20 years ago. Each of these new turtles received flipper tags so that researchers can identify her in future years. Over 80 EAG guests were able to visit Long Island on an EAG turtle watch this season.
 
New research on Long Island this year included tracking hatchling Hawksbills as they left the beach to learn what routes and how fast they swim and how many get preyed upon. Additional studies examined the types of vegetation on nesting beaches and how that vegetation affects nest temperatures and what nest sites turtles select. Nest incubation temperatures determine if hatchlings will be male or female, and with rising global temperatures, it’s important to understand the relationship between different nesting sites, temperatures, and hatchlings. These studies will help to better conserve Hawksbills in Antigua and around the Caribbean.
 
Finally, a hawksbill first tagged in Antigua in 2009 was sighted nesting on Buck Island in the US Virgin Islands this August! Hawksbills usually nest at the same beach year after year, and this is the first time that a Hawksbill known to have nested in Antigua has been documented nesting on another island. Quite an exciting finding! As luck would have it, the researchers on Buck Island outfitted this turtle, dubbed Beatrice, with a satellite transmitter, so please visit http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?tag_id=121295 to follow her movements.
 
For more information on sea turtles in Antigua, please visit http://www.eagantigua.org/page561.html or http://www.jbhp.org/. To participate in an EAG turtle watch next season or to report any nesting activity next year, contact us after February 2013 at eagantigua@gmail.com or 462-6236. Here’s to a hopeful and exciting turtle nesting season next year!

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