The ecology of the Caribbean island of Nevis is preserved and protected by state ownership of the beaches and the prohibition of construction beyond a thousand feet above sea level. The island, therefore, is the perfect place for ecotourism. It has miles of almost deserted beaches and rain forest trails for hiking and biking amongst the natural flora and wildlife.
But one of the most important ecotourism activities on Nevis is to learn about sea turtles and help with their conservation.
Sea Turtles on Nevis
There are four species of sea turtle around Nevis, and all are endangered. Poaching is illegal but unfortunately still goes on. The beautiful shells are highly desired, as is eating the eggs as they are considered to boost virility and fertility. Artificial lighting is another problem for turtles, either blinding them or drawing them away from the sea. Along with the natural hazards a baby turtle faces, only one in 1,000 Nevis turtles survives to adulthood.
Conservation agencies monitor the nests and migration patterns to inform future conservation measures and run ecotourism activities to raise awareness. Many Caribbean turtle beaches are in remote regions or have difficult access. In contrast, Nevis’s beaches are easily accessible, making it the go-to island for this type of ecotourism.
June to October is the best time to go for the sea turtle nesting season. The Sea Turtle Conservancy runs ecotourism programmes to raise awareness and allow you to work with them after dark to scour the beach for turtles coming ashore. It’s suitable for the whole family, and very different to the usual holiday activity. The female turtle digs without disturbance into the sand close to where she herself was born, lays her eggs, and covers the nest up. Afterwards, the Conservancy captures the female to place a satellite tracking tag on her shell (which falls off after a couple of years). The next morning they release the turtles. Crowds gather to watch as she crawls back into the sea.
Tour de Turtles
Around mid-July each year 20 tagged turtles are ‘selected’ to compete in the Tour de Turtles. Turtles are released from their nesting sites across the Caribbean and Florida, including Nevis. Supporters follow their favoured turtle’s migration to their foraging ground on a map. Whichever one swims the farthest in three months ‘wins’. Sea turtles can swim an astounding 10,000 miles a year.
When the eggs hatch, conservationists also ensure that as many turtles as possible make it to the sea. Prince Harry engaged in a bit of ecotourism in Nevis in November 2017, releasing baby turtles which had been trapped in thick vegetation, and checking nests to check for any young that were too weak to dig their way up through the sand.