My night of turtle-watching in Tobago became an unforgettable experience

Mar 12, 2020

turtle watching

 

As I sat gazing into the star-filled sky on the terrace of my villa, the shrill cry of my mobile phone pierced the midnight air.

“There’s a turtle on the beach and I’m coming to get you,” said an excited voice. It was our tour guide Wayne Kennedy – and he was taking us in the dark of night to witness a miracle of nature.

Within 10 minutes we were tiptoeing across the sand at Stonehaven Bay and there before us was a huge female leatherback, which had slowly clambered up from the sea.

“Despite journeying vast distances across oceans, to lay their eggs turtles somehow always manage to find their way back to the precise beach where they themselves were born,” Wayne whispered. We watched in awe as she used her powerful flippers to dig a pit for her hatchlings. Turtles enter a trance-like state during the laying process so she didn’t seem to notice we were there.

Several of the turtle species found on Tobago are critically endangered. “So it makes sense to disturb them as little as possible – flash photography, for example, is forbidden,” said Wayne.

It was such a great privilege to observe this spectacle up close and we adjusted our eyes to the ambient light.

Turtles are seen by divers and snorkellers all year round in Tobago but another guide, Hans Phillips, said: “They come on to the beaches to nest from March to August. Stonehaven, and Great Courland Bay nearby, are favourite spots for them to lay their eggs.”

Hans explained that you can register direct with a guide or at your hotel reception. When a turtle is spotted – either by a guide or a conservation volunteer – you will get a call and the guides will collect you in their car or minibus and take you to the beach.

Green, hawksbill and the giant leatherback turtles all nest in Tobago’s soft sands. The last can weigh up to a ton and reach more than eight feet in length. Each species lays up to 100 eggs, which hatch about six weeks later when the babies have to make their way unaided to the sea – another aspect of this natural phenomenon that can be witnessed on the island.

In Tobago, the Save Our Sea Turtles charity leads the way in conservation. Also on the beach during my night adventure were two volunteers monitoring the activities of our nesting turtle.

They also work with tour operators such as Wayne and Hans to ensure turtle-watching by visitors is treated with respect. It is an exhilarating and humbling experience that I will never forget.

 

Article by: Jackie Holland, The Telegraph UK