Following Tuesday’s discovery of a large tiger shark that washed ashore dead in the Mustique Marine Conservation Area, Wednesday July 30th, 2014 morning brought a juvenile Olive Ridley Sea Turtle to the island, believed to be the first ever record of the species in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
At a little larger than the size of the palm of an adult’s hand, it’s rare to encounter such a juvenile turtle.
The Coordinator of the Mustique Turtle Project explains “When sea turtles hatch, their first instinct is to head to sea. They go through a swimming frenzy for a couple of days to reach the open ocean where they then hide amongst floating seaweed. They live for many years out at sea before they return to coastal waters, when we’ll start to see green turtles and hawksbills feeding and nesting around the Grenadines, and leatherbacks nesting on some of our beaches.”
“Normally a turtle of this size would be out at sea, floating in rafts of sargassum seaweed. But the current influx of sargassum is bringing new findings to our shores.”
The Olive Ridley is one of six species of sea turtle found in the Caribbean, but it has never before been seen in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The species is officially considered endangered at the global level, meaning it faces a high risk of extinction.
Whilst the influx of seaweed might seem like a nuisance to some people, today’s discovery shows that it is in fact an essential habitat for marine life, including being a critical nursery habitat for endangered baby sea turtles, sharks, rays, eels and fish. This highlights the need to be careful not to damage vulnerable sea creatures if handling the seaweed.
SusGren advises that ideally the seaweed should be left on the beach as it provides important nourishment to the sand and to coastal sea life. Any essential beach cleaning is best done by hand with rakes so as not to damage marine life.
Washed of salt, the seaweed makes excellent fertilizer for gardens. These rafts of seaweed are more typically encountered in the Sargasso Sea, located off Bermuda. Reflecting the importance of this habitat and the need for conservation of the high seas, several governments came together in Bermuda in March this year to sign the Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea.
Anyone finding a sea turtle that washes up amongst seaweed should place it in a bucket of seawater with some seaweed and take it out to sea to release it in a current that will take it back to its original course. The public can contact the Fisheries Division on 456-2738 or SusGren on 485–8779, e-mail: [email protected] for more advice or assistance. For information about sea turtles and how to help them survive see www.widecast.org.
Photo: Juvenile Olive Ridley Sea Turtle washed ashore in the Grenadines (R.Hoflund)