Virgin Islands

Protecting Sea Turtles Where They Nest

Poaching patrols and help for emerging hatchlings are helping turn the tide for turtles on St. Croix.

Sea turtles have roamed the Earth’s oceans for more than 100,000,000 years. Today, all sea turtle species are considered endangered throughout their global ranges; threatened by a long list of negative human impacts, including loss of nesting and foraging habitat, degradation of foraging habitat, introduction of invasive species, poaching, pollution and impacts from fishing.

On St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, there are encouraging signs of sea turtle recovery attributed to targeted and proactive interventions and The Nature Conservancy is at the forefront of these efforts.

In 1999, the Conservancy created the 301 acre Jack and Isaac Bay Preserve to protect habitat of large nesting populations of green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles. Time was of the essence. A survey had determined that nearly one-third of the nests on these beaches, and the adjacent East End Beach in East End Marine Park, were being poached. A Sea Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program was implemented and the incidence of poaching has been reduced to less than one percent due to patrols, monitoring and research activities on the beaches during nesting season. Today, poaching is almost unheard of on the beaches as Conservancy staff, volunteers and project researchers monitor nesting females, remove invasive species, and excavate nests soon after hatching events (giving a second chance to many hatchlings.)

Thanks to the Jack & Isaac’s Bay Preserve’s Sea Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program, scientists now have a better understanding of how endangered green and hawksbill sea turtle utilize St. Croix’s east end beaches and the importance of these nesting habitats to the wider Caribbean.