Tobago is a small island of 116 square miles with a population of 54,000, just 33 kilometers north east of Trinidad in the Caribbean. It has been described as the last of the unspoiled Caribbean islands making it a great location for a Caribbean holiday especially for someone who loves holiday recreational activities and outdoor adventure. The island is surrounded by some of the richest and most colorful coral reefs in the Caribbean, with 40 species of corals and over 600 species of fish. These aquatic communities are some of the most spectacular sights on earth.
Anyone snorkelling the reefs of Tobago has a good chance of seeing marine turtles swimming among the reefs, as Tobago is home to the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle. Hawksbill turtles are named after their beak which looks like the bill of a hawk, although some persons refer to them as oxbill turtles. Hawksbill turtles prefer to live in the clear shallow waters of coastal bays and on the inside of coral reefs where they eat sponges, corals and other invertebrates. These turtles can weigh up to 200 pounds with a hard elliptical shell made of overlapping plates that are coloured amber and streaked with brown, black, yellow or red. Unfortunately that beautiful shell causes hawksbills to be hunted because the shell can be used to make a variety of ornamental items and some individuals prize the meat for eating. This hunting has caused the Hawksbill turtle to be placed on the endangered species list.
The other turtle regularly seen by those who snorkel in the ocean off Tobago is the Green Turtle and it is also on the endangered species list. Green turtles prefer to live in warm shallow water where there is an abundance of sea grass as they feed on the sea grasses and algae. Green sea turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds and have a hard oval shell that is olive brown in color with streaks of green and brown. It is endangered because its shell is also prized and because of hunting for its meat.
For anyone snorkeling around Tobago’s reefs, turtle watching is an enjoyable event. However an even more visually dramatic event takes place each year as these turtles slowly come onto the beaches of Tobago to lay their eggs and this becomes the prime time for turtle watching. The Hawksbill and Green turtles are joined in their nesting activities by the giant Leatherback turtles.
The leatherback turtle is the most visually dramatic of the turtles that nest in Trinidad and Tobago because of their size. Adults can vary in size from 600 pounds to 2,000 pounds. Leatherback turtles are so named because of they have a dark rubbery shell that resembles leather with seven narrow ridges. These giant turtles roam the oceans eating jelly fish however the female leatherback turtle always returns to the same beach where they were born for laying their eggs.Male leatherback turtles never return to land after they enter the sea at birth.
On the beach the female turtle will dig an egg chamber with her flippers and then lay between 80 to 100 eggs. After laying, the female leatherback covers the chamber with sand and then smoothes over the area to disguise the chamber. A female will visit and lay up to eight times during the nesting season.
Turtle nesting season in Tobago runs from January to September with the season getting into full swing from March and the peak period for turtle nesting being May and June as these months have the highest concentration of nesting turtles. Nesting takes place at night although some turtles are occasionally seen during the daylight.
The beaches prized by all three of these turtles for nesting are those with a steep profile backed by a flat sandy top as the steep profile enables the turtles to more easily get from the water to the sandy top during high tide. The majority of the turtle nesting beaches are on the Leeward (western) coast of Tobago with the aptly named, Turtle Beach, being the prime nesting site. Turtle Beach however is not the only nesting site and the other beaches include Grange Beach, Little Back Bay, Stonehaven Bay, Courland Bay, Castara Bay, Englishman’s Bay, Parlatuvier Bay, Bloody Bay and Man-O-War Bay (Charlotteville). On the Windward coast the beaches where nesting turtles are found include Anse Bateau (Speyside), Starwood Bay (Speyside) and Pinfold Bay near Goodwood.
The prime turtle beaches of Grange Bay, Stonehaven Bay, Grafton Beach, Turtle Beach and Courland bay are turtle protected beaches at night and so you must go with a certified tour guide for the turtle watching on those beaches.
Viewing turtle hatching while not as dramatic as the nesting is also an enjoyable activity. The young turtles begin hatching approximately 60 days after the eggs are laid. As soon as they hatch the young turtles climb through the sand onto the beach and immediately head for the water. Upon entering the sea, the young turtles head for deep water.
Viewing turtle nesting and hatching is a great addition to your holiday activities and the island of Tobago with its pristine beaches and varied outdoor activities is a wonderful vacation location.