The Caribbean is more than tropical beaches and rum cocktails. Its also a place to experience some of the planet’s unique wildlife – and on the island of Grenada, the ability to witness leatherback turtles come to shore to propagate their species.
From May until September, leatherback turtles make their way to Levera Beach, a protected area on the island, to lay their eggs. And thanks to Ocean Spirits, a local non-profit conservation association, visitors can come to witness the turtles in action and see how the turtles are being protected through conservation and education.
Be prepared for a lengthy and bumpy bus ride from St. George’s to St. Andrew’s, as it takes about two hours to reach Levera Beach, with the tour starting in the evening after sunset. Visitors are brought to an education centre to learn more about the leatherback turtles, who are a critically endangered species. Every leatherback turtle who comes to the beach is tagged and measured, as the researchers track the turtles every year to see how many return to Grenada.
And then you are led to Levera Beach to wait. As the moon rises, visitors are cautioned to not use flashlights or camera flash, as the light is distracting to the turtles. Sitting on a beautiful beach under the moonlight sounds like a romantic encounter, but the restless energy of the eager participants makes us anxious for the turtles to make their way to the shore.
Volunteers and researchers from Ocean Spirits headed off along the beach, looking for signs of the turtle arrival and after an hour of waiting, we were quietly led to the opposite end of the beach, where a large female had come up onto the sand and found her spot to nest.
Two Ocean Spirits workers are incredibly close to the large female, as she’s used her back legs to dig a hole for the eggs. As she starts laying the eggs, the workers scoop out the eggs from the sand nest into a bucket, to transfer them to a safer spot farther up the beach. At this distance from the water, most of her eggs could get eaten by other wildlife.
The group watches in awe, quietly chatting and watching as the eggs appear. Some of us strain to get close with our cameras, as others circle around to try and see the turtle’s face, as she continues to lay eggs. The night sky may be showing many stars in the sky, but for this group, it’s all about turtle eggs collected in a bucket. The guide says we can touch her, and we line up like school children, kneeling down to stroke her side and shell, which feels smooth.
The turtle finishes laying, digging deep in the sand to bury the eggs, although she’s unaware they’ve been removed. Very slowly, the female turtle moves towards the sea. It’s laborious watching her incrementally move in the deep soft sand, and we all want to help her. But our guide slowly leads us away, and we see two other turtles have come up to the beach, with volunteers analyzing and helping the turtles as they lay eggs.
The group slowly leaves the beach to board the bus, feeling lucky to have witnessed a female turtle keep her species alive.
For more information on how to see the leatherback turtles in Grenada - Grenada Tours.
Share and discuss this story with your friends
I'm a Toronto-based freelance journalist, writing about travel, design, cuisine and people who are passionate about what they create. I’ve written for newspaper, magazine, websites and blogs since 2000, love taking photos and happy to share what I've found wandering our planet.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: Pacific rim, Middle East, Caribbean, islands, pop culture, art, architecture, cuisine, photography