Turtle-watching in Tobago: ancient mariners

Your guide to Tobago turtle-watching

Tobago gets a lot fewer turtles than Trinidad, but you will still see enough to make this an awesome experience. Plus, it’s easier to get to them in Tobago. Hundreds of the giant leatherbacks and hawksbills nest on four main beaches — Turtle Beach, Mt Irvine, and Stonehaven. Hawksbills also nest in great numbers at the Magdalena Grand.

March to September is nesting season for the leatherbacks who may come from far away to nest on the beach where they were born. Their hatchlings will emerge six to eight weeks afterwards and head for the sea. Green turtles and hawksbills inhabit the coastal waters year round, and you can spot them foraging for food on the reefs and sea grass beds.

You can become a volunteer with Save Our Sea Turtles and join their efforts in tagging turtles, counting nests and rescuing disoriented hatchlings. You must commit to a minimum of four weeks between March and September. Graduate students and marine researchers enjoy working alongside staff and other volunteers.

Contact SOS Tobago for reputable tour guides to take you turtle watching, or to become a volunteer: 328-7351, sos-tobago.org

A critically endangered leatherback turtle hatchling takes a breath as it swims out to to sea at Mt Irvine/Back Bay. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago

A critically endangered leatherback turtle hatchling takes a breath as it swims out to to sea at Mt Irvine/Back Bay. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago


Turtle-watching etiquette

  • Turtles will not come out of the water and onto the beach if they see any lights or movements. It is very important that you keep all noise and movements to a minimum
  • There should be no flashlights (or flash photography), as any light can scare and disorient both mothers and hatchlings. Beachfront lights should also be turned off. If you stay on a nesting beach that hasn’t turned off or converted their lights to turtle friendly ones, we encourage you to raise this with them.
  • No campfires, please. Campfires can literally bake the nests in the sand below.
  • No smoking while turtles are nearby.
  • Please do not leave any litter behind because it can trap hatchlings. Turtles at sea also choke or suffocate when they mistake clear plastic bags for jellyfish.
  • Driving on nesting beaches is absolutely forbidden — as is sitting on the turtles! Vehicles can crush the eggs in the sand.
  • Do not stake umbrellas or any object that can damage eggs underneath. Sandcastles are also discouraged in case you disturb or destroy any eggs.
  • Our turtles and hatchlings are legally protected and endangered. Please do not touch them — unless to save them from harm.
A critically endangered hawksbill turtle camouflages her nest after laying eggs. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago

A critically endangered hawksbill turtle camouflages her nest after laying eggs. Photographer: Giancarlo Lalsingh/SOS Tobago

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Posted by Nazma Muller

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