One of the most fascinating creatures you can come across in Barbados, whether on land or in the sea, is the sea turtle.
If you’ve gone swimming in Carlisle Bay or walking on the South coast boardwalk at night during the summer then you’ve probably seen one of these iconic ocean animals.
Sea Turtles found in Barbados
Globally, there are seven species of sea turtles – but only three of these species are found in Barbados. They are:
The hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata
The green turtle Chelonia mydas
And the leatherback Dermochelys coriacea.
Even though these sea turtles are common in Barbados, they are all in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, the leatherback is listed as vulnerable to extinction, the green turtle is listed as endangered and the hawksbill is listed as critically endangered; and they all have decreasing populations.
Why are sea turtles found in Barbados?
These three sea turtle species choose to reside in the Tropical North Atlantic because they prefer the habitat this region has to offer. From lively coral reefs to dense seagrass beds, Barbados has everything a sea turtle could ask for.
Additionally, conservation and protection of sea turtles in the Caribbean have allowed them to be able to choose Barbados as a nesting and foraging area. Specifically in Barbados, all sea turtle harvesting is illegal and has been since 1998, and nesting sea turtles are monitored by the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, which began in 1992. These practices have contributed to the increasing sea turtle population on the island.
The hawksbill, green turtle and leatherback may have similar characteristics but they have many differences like their appearance, diet and nesting behavior.
Here’ we’ll explain what makes each of these three species unique!
The hawksbill as its name suggests has a mouth shaped like a hawk’s bill. Its shell also glistens with a brownish, orangish or yellowish coloration. One might describe its color as a ‘sunburst’. Additionally, the edges of the shell are ridged.
The hawksbill is the smallest of the three species found in Barbados.
Size (Shell length) – 2.5-3 ft
Weight – 101-154 lbs
The green turtle has green fat and a greenish shell. It has a small head with a serrated jaw. Green turtles can grow to be over twice the size of hawksbill turtles!
Size (Shell length) – 3-4 ft
Weight – 240-420 lbs
The leatherback is the only sea turtle in the world without a hard shell. Their shells are black or dark gray with white spots while the underside has black and whitish ridges. The leatherback is the largest of the three species found in Barbados.
Size (Shell length) – 6-7.2 ft
Weight – 550 – 1500 lbs
The design of a sea turtles’ mouth and jaw affects what they can/cannot eat. This ultimately determines their diet.
The hawksbill, green turtle and leatherback all have different shaped mouths and jaws; therefore, they have different diets.
The hawksbill’s pointy-shaped mouth allows the sea turtle to get into crevices in coral and feed. Their diet consists of sponges, sea anemones, squid and shrimp which they are able to rip apart.
The diet of the green turtle changes throughout its life.
Hatchlings and young juveniles eat a wide range of foods from crustaceans to algae. While old juveniles (>8 inches in length) and adults are mainly herbivores and eat sea grasses and algae. Their serrated jaws allow them to rip vegetation.
Green turtles are the only sea turtles that are strictly herbivores as adults.
Leatherbacks have tender jaws, as a result they have to eat soft organisms. Their diet consists mainly of jellyfish which is soft enough for them to consume.
Nesting Activity in Barbados
Even though hawksbills, green turtles and leatherbacks are all found in Barbados’ waters, hawksbills are the most common nesting sea turtle on the island.
As a matter of fact, Barbados has one of the highest hawksbill populations in the Caribbean! Meanwhile, green turtles rarely nests in Barbados; they are mainly found in the sea where they forage in seagrass beds. As for leatherbacks, they occasionally nest in Barbados.
Additionally, the nesting behaviour of these three sea turtles vary on the island.
Hawksbills nest strictly on the South and West coast of the island, and their nesting season ranges from mid-May to mid-October.
Each nesting season, a nesting female lays between 3-6 nests and each nests has ~150 eggs which incubate for 60 days. Female hawksbill turtles nest every 2-4 years.
Even though green turtles don’t nest often on the island, they have similar nesting behaviour to hawksbills.They nest on the South and West coast like hawksbills and their nesting season also has the same range as hawksbills, mid-May to mid-October.
Female green turtles lay about 3-5 nest per season and each nest consists of ~115 eggs which incubate for 60 days. Female green turtles nest approximately every 2 years.
Unlike the hawksbill and the green turtle, leatherbacks nest mainly on the East coast. This is because they are large and have difficulty getting up on beaches to nest so the rough seas on the East coast assists them.
Female leatherbacks nesting season ranges from February to July and each nesting season they lay 4-7 nests. Each nest consists of 80 fertilized eggs and 30 unfertilized eggs which incubate for 65 days. Female leatherbacks nest every 2-3 years.
What to do when you see a sea turtle
If you see a sea turtle/hatchlings on land or exposed sea turtle eggs, call the Barbados Sea Turtle Project Hotline at:
Do not touch sea turtles when you see them whether on land or in the sea. It’s important to respect these incredible ocean animals and give them their space.