Learn About Sea Turtle
Environmentally Sensitive Sea Turtles of Trinidad and Tobago
- The leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, is an ancient species, directly descended from the first sea turtles that evolved over 100 million years ago. The largest of all turtle species, many leatherbacks exceed 8 feet in length and an adult male can weigh over 2000 pounds. Their “shell” is flexible and leather-like, and their large size and unique circulation system help to conserve heat, allowing leatherbacks to survive in much colder water than other species of turtles. They can also dive deeper than any other reptile, having been recorded at depths exceeding 4000 feet! Would we want to lose such a magnificent creature forever?
- Globally, all species of sea turtle found in Trinidad and Tobago are classified as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A species is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Vulnerable (see Section V), and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
- Trinidad and Tobago is very fortunate to have one of the largest nesting populations of leatherback turtles in the world, over 6000 leatherback turtles nest in our country each year. In contrast, only a few hawksbill and green turtles (40 at most) nest on our beaches each year.
- Leatherback turtles are a “flagship species” for Trinidad and Tobago, meaning that they play a very special role in our culture and economy. Many people think “Trinidad and Tobago” when they hear about leatherback turtles! We have an obligation to protect this ancient species. Why? Because the eggs laid here, and the hatchlings that result, grow to turtles that contribute to the leatherback population throughout the entire Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, including the waters of Africa.
- We are fortunate that, as a result of dedicated community-led efforts that span many years, leatherback populations appeared to have stabilized in our country. In contrast, some of the largest leatherback populations in the world are now nearly extinct because such care has not been taken. The most dramatic declines have occurred in Pacific Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as in Malaysia and other Asian countries. With the exception of Trinidad & Tobago, French Guiana-Suriname, most Caribbean populations are also very small.
- In addition to direct harvest, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles die every year because they drown in fishing nets. This is called “fisheries by-catch”, and it is the number one cause of death for leatherbacks globally, including Trinidad and Tobago. In a research project by the Institute of Marine Affairs in 2002, over 3000 turtles were captured in nets and 33% of that number died as a result. If we continue lose 1000 turtles every year to accidental drowning, our population will be wiped out in a few years time! For this reason, Nature Seekers in partnership with WIDECAST have been involved in scientific studies that involve fishers in testing alternative fishing methods that do not kill as many turtles.
- The experience of Nature Seekers and other community-based conservation groups has shown clearly that sea turtles are worth much more alive than dead. For example, at the present time sea turtles contribute very significantly to the economic potential and livelihood opportunities on the Northeast coast in areas such as data collectors, tour guides, community managers, host homes and other service providers, handcrafters, and so on.
- Research conducted on our local beaches informs sea turtle conservation and management throughout the Caribbean Sea, and the tens of thousands of tourists that visit our nesting beaches every year carry this new knowledge and awareness with them, which in turn promotes sea turtle conservation throughout the world.
- Sea Turtle are protected by 3 main pieces of legislation. These are the:
Trinidad and Tobago has signed the following treaties which further increase our responsibility to protect the endangered sea turtles found in our country.
The 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) makes it illegal to import or export products made from certain endangered species. ALL species of sea turtle found in Trinidad and Tobago are included on Appendix I of this treaty, which means, for example, that the sale of tortoiseshell in many of our tourist‑oriented retail markets is illegal. These markets include both airports (Piarco and Crown Point), as well as road side vendors, hotel shops, and boutiques, particularly in Tobago. No credible argument can be made that these items are not being sold primarily for export since tourists ultimately leave T&T and return to their nations of residence, where they may face stiff fines and other penalties for possession of illegal wildlife products. Government ratified the CITES treaty in good faith in 1984, and has an unambiguous obligation to enforce its provisions.
The Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol), which is part of the United Nations’ “Cartagena Convention”, protects endangered species at a Caribbean regional scale. ALL species of sea turtle found in Trinidad and Tobago are included on Annex II of this treaty, which requires countries that have signed the Protocol to prohibit killing, possession, and commercial trade in sea turtles, their eggs, and their parts or products, as well as to prohibit the disturbance of sea turtles (and other species listed on Annex II), particularly during periods of breeding, incubation, migration, and other periods of biological stress. The unanimous vote by Governments, including Trinidad and Tobago (which ratified the treaty in 1999), to include sea turtles on Annex II clearly demonstrates the importance of Caribbean countries cooperating together to protect migratory species that they all share.
You can learn more about Sea Turtles from our partner organisation WIDECAST. You can learn about the biology and behaviour of the main turtle species.
The following is a general assessment which can be used with and among family and friends.