Many different species of animal call St. Croix home.  Learn about the different animals, birds, and other St. Croix wildlife you many encounter during your stay.



Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Humpback whales!

The other night I was having dinner at eat@canebay with my family when I noticed some of the staff and customers were standing up and intently peering out over the water. I happened to turn around in my seat just in time to see something breach the water off in the distance. We started discussing amongst our table whether it might be a pod of dolphins when a HUGE tail came up out of the water. There was a pod of humpback whales frolicking in the beautiful blue Caribbean waters of Cane Bay! We sat mesmerized with many of the other customers and staff members for next half hour watching the whales as they sprayed saltwater out of their blowholes, and lifted their massive tails (called flukes) out of the water. It was amazing!

During the winter months, humpback whales migrate along St. Croix and each year lucky residents and visitors get to hear their enchanting songs while diving or snorkeling…and a very lucky few get to see them up close and personal in the water! If I see nothing else this year, at least I got the pleasure of seeing them playing from the north shore. So, keep your eyes (and ears) open…you never know when they might decide to swim by!

The photos above were taken by a guest on Big Beards Adventure Tours while sailing back from a Buck Island trip.

Fauna- Sphinx Moth Caterpillars

Sphinx Moth Caterpillars

An full grown larvae can grow up to 10 inches long! Amazingly, when they develop into their adult stage of a moth, they are small and brownish in color. I guess they are making up for it in this larvae stage. Either way, they are pretty cool to see, but not so cool when they eat all the leaves off your Frangi Pangi trees!

Fauna- Senepol Cattle

Senepol Cattle

This beautiful species of cattle is native to St. Croix. The feed on the lush green hills on the west end of the island. You can read the history of how they came about here; what what is most important about this breed is that it can stand up to island conditions such as drought and heat. Two major cattle farms still exist on St. Croix,Castle Nugent Farm and Annaly Farm.

Fauna- No See Ums

No-See-Ums

This is the official, technical term for little nat-like bugs that you can’t see, but you can certainly feel! They itch like the devil and like damp, moist, low-lying outside areas. You might also encounter noseeums on the beach around dusk. Wear long pants when dining at certain outside restaurants. They are also referred to as Sandflys. (no image available)

Fauna- Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes

Uggh, it is the harsh reality. We have the little blood sucking boogers. Mosquitoes are usually prevalent after big rains, and feed at dawn and dusk. But don’t fret; come prepared! Bring your favorite non-aerosol bug spray, bug repellant wipes, garlic water or what ever concoction you desire just in case you think you might be a target. Most hotels, bars and restaurants on St. Croix can provide repellant if you need it. Keep a fan running at night to circulate the air. (no image available)

Fauna- Mongoose

Mongoose

Oh, our curious little mascot! You’ll catch these quick little rodents scurrying across the road, or even taunting an iguana. Mongoose were brought to the island to eradicate the rat problem. Well, problem was, rats were nocturnal (they like the night time) and mongoose are diurnal (they like the day time); which means that little plan didn’t work out so well. What did end up happening was that the mongoose wiped out the snake population on St. Croix; which ironically was their original purpose in places like India, where they would hunt and kill King Cobras!

Fauna- Iguanas

Iguanas

Look in trees, mangroves and scurrying across the road for this pre-historic looking reptile. Iguanas are native to the Caribbean where they like the sun and warm waters just as much as you do! Babies are brightly colored and FAST! Adult males can be dark green or blue and can grow up to six feet long. Females tend to be less colorful in grays and browns. On St. Croix, you most likely find iguanas at Tamarind Beach and Salt River. Please do not feed them; just observe them from afar!

Fauna- Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs

First thing’s first: do not take these cute crustaceans home to keep as a pet. They live here for a reason. When the animal that lives inside the hard shell grows, he searches for and moves into a new, larger home! You can find hermit crabs on the outskirts of the beach, but also in thick vegetation areas known as The Bush. You’ll here them walking and rolling down the hills if you hike in the rainforest.

Fauna- Gecko

Gecko, Anole

Commonly referred to as a House Gecko; they are EVERYWHERE on St. Croix! Geckos are cute, fun to watch and totally harmless. In fact, people allow them to stay in their homes because they eat the bugs!

Fauna- Donkeys

Donkeys

Donkeys were brought here by colonists from under every flag. They are traditionally work animals. On St. John, you might be awakened in the middle of the night by the breigh of a feral donkey wandering in the bush. On St. Croix, no feral donkeys, but you can see them during parades and even Donkey Races!

Fauna- Deer

Deer

Yep, deer on the island. They were brought here in the 1700’s for sport. No hunting is allowed of these gentle animals. They exist from the east to the west ends of St. Croix and are much smaller than their stateside cousins.

Fauna- Chickens

Chickens

A.K.A. Yard Birds. These cluckers are pretty much feral and run amuck all over the island. You’ll see them in town, hens with chicks, roosters crowing. Some locals do care and feed for them, and even collect their eggs and provide a safe place to roost. For the most part, it is just plain fun so catch a glimpse of these crazy birds.

Fauna- Bats

Bats

Right at dusk, you can catch glimpses of these fast-flying mammals. They fly out from under roof eaves, caves, and even abandoned structures to feed on insects; which really helps keeps the mosquito population down! If you are relaxing by the pool, you might even see them skim the water. No need to be afraid, our bats are strictly vegetarian and have no interest in sucking your blood.

Lionfish Hunters… Sharpen Your Spears!

Lionfish up close and personal

We’ve already told you about the Lionfish (click here to read our original post) and the threat it poses to our waters. The Lionfish, a ferocious predator, has taken over the reefs in the Bahamas and destroyed diverse populations of juvenile fish, disrupting the eco-system. Dive Training Magazine has a great article in the November 2010 issue about Lionfish and says that, “these voracious piscivores can eliminate 80 percent of the juvenile fish population on a reef in as little as 5 weeks. In turn, they not only eliminate the next generation of fish, but also take away the food source from other important commercial species, such as adult grouper and snapper… Lionfish also eat the ecologically important algae eaters of the reef like parrotfishes, damselfishes and surgeonfishes.” Pretty scary stuff for the delicate balance of our marine eco-systems. Fortunately, the divers and water-lovers of St. Croix have been quick to act on getting the word out and educating everyone on island about the threat the Lionfish poses, and what to do if you see a Lionfish (mark the spot and call Fish and Wildlife!).

Now, St. Croix’s dive shops are turning Lionfish hunting into a sport! Last weekend, N2 the Blue Dive Shopvia floridakeysvacationmagazine.com hosted a Lionfish tournament, with prizes for the biggest and most Lionfish caught. Now Dive Experience is bringing the hunt to Christiansted. On Sunday, December 4th, will be the second Lionfish Tournament, with the weigh-in happening at the Fort Christian Brew Pub between 4 and 5 pm, and prizes from the Brew Pub for the smallest and biggest fish and the most caught. All the Lionfish must be caught that day to be eligible for the win. Whether it’s a shore or boat dive, as long as you catch a Lionfish, you could be in the running for some great prizes–and knowing that you’re helping to control the Lionfish population on St. Croix.

Long spines contain venom which can be harmful to humans

The contest will be judged by Dr. William Coles from Fish and wildlife, who recently attended the annualmeeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute with Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen in Puerto Rico.  St. Croix is just in the early stages of the Lionfish spread, but Michelle Pugh from Dive Experience emphasized the importance of nipping the problem in the bud, before it gets out of control, saying that St. Croix has had the most aggressive response to the predator in the Caribbean. Michelle says that the more people who are educated about it, and help to spread the word about what to do when you see a Lionfish will really be important in helping our community stem this problem and protect our reefs. She mentioned that many people consider Lionfish to be a beautiful, exotic fish but don’t realize what a serious threat they pose to the marine environment. If as many people as possible on island are aware of the issue, the more reports we can get to Fish and Wildlife and the more we can all help to control this issue!

Registration for the Lionfish Tournament starts tomorrow, November 12th and the tournament itself will take

via scubadiving1.com

We don't actually recommend this method of Lionfish hunting…

place on December 4th, with weigh-in at the Brew Pub at 4 pm. Michelle is offering a first come, first serve $20 2-tank dive on her Dive Experience boats for anyone participating, or divers can take their own boats or do shore dives. Registration is at Dive Experience on Strand Street in Christiansted, or call the store at 773-3307. Registration is $10 and each diver must work in a buddy team. Even if you aren’t a diver, it’s sure to be a fun scene at the weigh-in at the Brew Pub, and you can learn more about these creatures and what you can do to help.

 

See you there and spread the word!

Just a reminder of the Lionfish protocol if you happen to see one…

IF YOU SEE A LIONFISH:

1-      Do not touch it! Lionfish spikes are highly poisonous!
2-     Mark the location with a cork streamer. Take a GPS reading if you can or get a detailed description of the location.
3-     Call DPNR immediately (anytime, 24/7) to report the sighting: (340) 643-0800 or (340) 773-1082.
4-     Fill out the Lionfish reporting form from DPNR.

Read more about the lionfish here:

USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources

NOAA Ocean Service Education

 

 

Senepol- The Crucian Breed

It all started a long time ago in 1860 when a man named George Elliott decided to import 60 Senegalese (N’Dama) heifers and two bulls from Senegal West Africa. Mr. Henry Nelthropp, owner of Granard Estates, immediately started buying offspring from Elliott and by 1889 the herd at Granard Estate had grown to 250 cattle. Henry’s son, Albert, who kept the herd pure by not breeding outside the farm, was managing the farm. Although the N’Dama were very sturdy cows with a high resistance to heat and disease, they were not good milk producers.

Bromley Nelthropp, Albert’s brother, started to consider how he could produce a breed with the qualities of the N’Dama yet be good milk producers. His opportunity to produce this new breed came in late 1918 when he took a trip down island to Trinidad. At this point in history the records vary with regards to the Red Pol bull which Bromley found and purchased in Trinidad. One account of the transaction states that the bull Bromley purchased was named “Captain Kidd” and was renamed to “Douglas” by Bromley when he brought the bull back to St. Croix. This differs from a hand written note from one of the Nelthropp’s, that clearly states that the bull purchased by Bromley was named “Sultan”, and weighed 2,200 pounds and had 8 inch horns. The note goes further to state that the bull was not a pure breed but instead had been the offspring of a cross with a Mysor cow from India.

Whichever account is accurate, the events that followed this purchase were the beginnings of the Senepol breed. When Bromley returned to St. Croix, he used this new bull to breed with the Senegalese N’Dama herd, which produced an offspring, which was heat and disease resistant, yet has good milk producing qualities. Bromley continued to selectively breed the new cows and eventually ended up with a cow with no horns, a solid red color, and a gentle disposition. With the exception of introducing some Brahman and Red Devon breeds to his herd shortly after bringing Douglas from Trinidad, Bromley closed the herd until 1942.

In 1942, Bromley purchased a Red Pol bull named “Doctor” from Estate Tutu in St. Thomas and started using “Doctor” to breed the existing herd. This new breed was known as Nelthropp Cattle, but was also sometimes referred to as the Crucian Breed and St. Croix Cattle.

During the period from 1942-1949, Bromley started selling some of his Nelthropp cattle to some of the other N’Dama breeders on the island, occasionally purchasing back some of the better off-spring that these breeders produced.

In 1954, the breed was registered in Puerto Rico and the United States as the “St. Croix Senepol”, a name derived from the Senegal stock and the Red Pol stock. In 1977, the Virgin Islands Senepol Association of St. Croix was formed. The associations’ primary objectives were the development, registration, and promotion of the Senepol breed by promoting and maintaining high breeding standards with emphasis placed on heat tolerance, fertility, and docility.

As word of this sturdy breed got out to the world, breeders began coming to St. Croix to purchase stock to breed elsewhere. Starting in 1977, the local cattle farmers have been selling stock and shipping the cattle off island. Now after 20 years of exporting the Senepol, there are over 500 breeder’s worldwide and 14,000 Senepol records. The Senepol breed is now found in 21 states and countries such as Mexico, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, and Venezuela.

The two major Senepol farms remaining on St. Croix are the Annaly Farm and the Cattle Nugent Farm. Although the herds which remain on St. Croix have dwindled, cattle farming remains the main agricultural product of the islands.

Article first seen in St. Croix Homes Magazine.

St. Croix Bird Watching

Avid and novice bird watchers alike will enjoy their aviary experience on St. Croix. There are seasonal appearances by certain species and we have our resident fowls who make St. Croix their home year round. No need to go out of your way to spot some of these creatures- chances are you will see them as you drive through the rain forest, kayak Salt River, hike Annaly Bay or wind your way to the eastern most point of the United States (Point Udall).

Here are some things to remember while bird watching:

* Do not disturb nesting birds, or tamper with an exposed nest, regardless of whether there are visible eggs
* Leave all habitat as you found it and do not litter- some birds might mistake garbage for food
* Act in ways that do not endanger the welfare of wildlife.
* Act in ways that do not harm the environment.
* Observe and photograph birds without disturbing them. Cars work great as blinds.
* Avoid chasing or flushing birds. Walk slowly and quietly. Stay concealed.
* Avoid using recordings to attract birds.
* Stay on existing roads and trails to avoid trampling fragile habitat.

Turtle Watch

Every species on the earth has its specific place and particular role in the ecosystem. Marine turtles are no different. They are a small part of ocean species that need to be treated with respect and care, and should be regarded as part of a rich marine heritage. They are among the most ancient vertebrate species on the planet, dating back to the days of dinosaurs and can provide important economic benefits to communities.

They are appreciated attractions all over the world, generating tourism revenues for the communities where they can be frequently seen.

St. Croix and its agencies, such as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, and the Nature Conservancy, play an important role in the preservation of endangered sea turtles, such as the leatherback and hawksbill. Preservational efforts also extend to the threatened green turtle. According to studies by the National Park Service, of the three turtles, the hawksbill turtle is the most endangered in the Eastern Caribbean.

According to an article written by the NPS Chief of Resource Manager, Zandy Hillis-Starr, the hawksbill turtle has been harvested for meat, leather, and eggs but mainly for its beautiful shell.

According to Hillis-Starr’s repoort, the tortoise shell industry began in the Virgin Islands in the 1920′s, when the shells were sought to produce,believe it or not, barrettes.

The North Florida Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fact sheet states “the legal hawksbill shell trade ended when Japan agreed to stop importing shells in 1993.” However, “a significant illegal trade continues.”

So what’s being done locally to protect these beautiful turtles? A lot. The National Park Service is working diligently to better understand the biological and nesting behavior of the hawksbill. They hope to expand resources that can help guarantee the survival of the turtles.

Also, from July to October, nightly patrols take place on known nesting beaches, such as Buck Island National Monument off St. Croix’s North East coastline. These allow NPS staff to record nesting turtles in an effort to understand their behavior, site selection, re-migration intervals, and the number of eggs they lay as well as their growth rate. According to research done by Hillis-Starr and other NPS research staff and volunteers, “over 50 percent of the hawksbill turtles nesting at Buck Island have contributed to the genetic analysis of the remaining hawksbill populations in the Caribbean.”

She continues, “analyses indicate that Buck Island nesting hawksbill turtles are not part of a larger population, but genetically distinct and isolated from hawksbill turtles nesting in Puerto Rico, Antigua, and Barbados.”

The hawksbill turtles found on St. Croix have shown a substantial genetic similarity to hawksbills sampled in Belize and Nicaragua.

To gain additional knowledge in the movement of nesting hawksbill turtles, the National Park Service, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a radio-and-sonar telemetry project.

This project helped to determine that nesting hawksbill turtles remain in close proximity to Buck Island during their nesting period with immediate departure after laying their final nest, or clutch, of the season.

Other critical information was the result of a study at the University of Alabama. To meet recovery goals of the Caribbean hawksbill, the University had to evolve a non-lethal method to determine the sex of hatchlings. It was concluded that incubation temperature rather than an X or Y chromosome, determined sex. This information, in addition to the recorded beach temperatures, will allow hawksbill advocates to determine the ratios of males and females produced on Buck Island without having to jeopardize any of the hatchlings.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services do not work alone. With the help of volunteers, data can be collected, organized, reported, and archived for the purpose of further research. The hard work of volunteers is crucial to the maintenance of the National Park’s sea turtle research program. Interns, biologists, and others, from many different walks of life, have made countless visits to St. Croix’s beaches in order to help gather information, excavate nests, record data, and simply lend helping hands. One huge supporter of the NPS is the Buccaneer Hotel. Hillis-Starr expresses her great appreciation for the help. “From 1993 to 1996 and again in ’98 to the present, the Buccaneer has supported …summer interns for three months. These interns provided technical field support for the Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Program and environmental education for visitors.”

With help from so many sources, the understanding of these highly complex marine reptiles, and the probability of increasing their population is a dream, gradually becoming a reality.

Here are a few facts that will help you better understand the hawksbill turtle:

* Females locate nesting sites above the levels of the highest tide, typically within, or under, terrestrial vegetation.
* They make more than one attempt at nesting; usually if safety for their potential nesting spot seems to be at risk.
* Nests are usually 10-90 cm below the sand’s surface.
* Incubation time varies mainly due to temperature but is usually between 7 to 10 weeks.
* Hatching usually occurs at night.
* These turtles are endangered and need respect. If you come in contact with them or their nests, please, just look. Do not touch.

A Trip to the St. Croix Avian Sanctuary with Toni Lance

There’s a good chance, if you live on St. Croix that you’ve heard of Toni Lance, St. Croix’s “Bird Lady,” as she has been dubbed.  A lifelong bird and animal lover, Toni has turned her passion for these animals into her life’s work– reflected in her renowned artwork and in her dedication to the non-profit organization at her home. the St. Croix Avian Sanctuary. Toni is a licensed Bird Rehabilitator by the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and is both skilled at caring for these animals, and emotionally connected to them.  The GoTo Team was recently able to take a tour of her property and experience these magnificent birds up close and personal. Watch our video to be amazed!

Toni sometimes welcomes visitors to her property for a tour, though she doesn’t have a regular schedule just yet. During our Saturday morning visit, Toni took us around her gorgeous and historic property on St. Croix’s South Shore, overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea, the green lawn dotted with various large cages where she keeps her injured birds of prey and other birds in recovery. It’s the perfect spot for this non-profit bird sanctuary, with sea breezes and tropical trees.  Toni has everything from cattle egrets to great egrets, peacocks, to chickens, a friendly (and hungry!) pelican, and most spectacularly, several red-tailed hawks, a Peregrine falcon, a kestrel and a merlin. She showed us a baby cattle egret who squawked for food and perched atop her head, and a large white crane who is fully rehabilitated but still hangs around the property for feedings.  Of course, as soon as the food came out, the pelican came up, bobbing his head and flapping his wings, going crazy for the little fish she was tossing out for snacks.

Toni then showed us her amazing birds of prey. It’s not often you can get to see, and even touch, these predators up close. These birds are with her for the long haul, as they have injuries that will never allow them to fly in the same way again, due to broken wings, lost wings, etc. Many of these birds have been shot with guns or completely lost half of wing, which renders them unable to fly, hunt or feed themselves. Toni has taken these magnificent creatures in and provides them with food, shelter and companionship. Two red-tailed hawks live in the same cage, a male and a female and have partnered and started mating. They have laid two eggs, but unfortunately, they have not resulted in a baby chick as of yet. Toni will still keep trying to get them strong and healthy enough to nurse an egg full term and maybe there will be a new red-tail on the horizon!

The birds of prey are tame enough to be petted and used for demonstrations in schools and for environmental groups that arrange tours with Toni. She also brings her blind blue pigeon Miracle to visit the kids. It’s really important to her to teach them about the proper treatment of animals– not just our pets (although that is important too), but the animals that we interact with in our natural environment of St. Croix.

Finally, Toni invited us inside to show us some of her paintings. Toni might be even more well known for her detailed and expressive watercolor and oil paintings of birds and wildlife. You can even see some of her work on the current issue of St. Croix This Week! With a background in science and training in medical illustration, Toni brings a lifelike detail to her colorful portraits, and because she is so emotionally connected to these animals, perfectly captures their essence and spirit. She usually has an annual art show at Walsh Metal Works gallery in February, so keep an eye on our calendar for her next event! It’s a rare opportunity to experience her newest work.

It was a rare and inspiring opportunity for us to get to experience the work that she dedicates herself to every day.  She is able to do this work through private donations and a supportive community, and the birds of St. Croix are lucky to have someone as skilled and caring as Toni looking after them.

And, while we were finishing up our tour, someone stopped by Toni’s house with a baby pearly-eyed thrasher they had picked up on the road. Toni accepted the little baby bird and we helped feed it in her living room… a bird lady’s work is never done.

How you can help

You can make donations to the St. Croix Avian Sanctuary by calling (340) 773-1839.

Share this page and our  video with your friends! The video is linked right here:  Toni Lance and the St. Croix Bird Sanctuary

Look Out for the Lionfish!

Many of you may have already heard about the threat that is facing our precious coral reefs… the Lionfish. If you haven’t, it’s time to learn about this new invasive species, and spread the word to all snorkelers and divers you know. In late 2008, the first lionfish found in St. Croix off the Frederiksted pier by divers from N2 the Blue Dive Shop and was captured and turned into The Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Despite their exotic and beautiful appearance, the lionfish is one of the most dangerous threats to the ecosystem of the coral reef.

The lionfish is a species native to the Indian-Pacific Ocean, and began popping up in the Atlantic Ocean area in the early 2000s. Some speculate that their appearance may be due to their presence in exotic aquariums in the States.

Lionfish are distinctive for their brown or maroon and white striped appearance and for the long venomous spines on their fins. These spines are used defensively and are not lethal to humans, though if stung, some people often have strong reactions beyond just pain, redness and swelling, such as headaches, cramps, nausea, paralysis and seizures.

The real threat posed by the lionfish is their voracious appetite for smaller fish—it is said they will eat anything that swims. Because of their striking natural defense mechanisms in their spiny fins, they have few predators and exist at the top of the food chain. They often corner smaller fish with their intimidating spines. They have already overtaken reefs in North Carolina, and 85% of young fish on reefs in the Bahamas were lost in a matter of just 5 weeks due to the lionfish, disrupting the delicate ecosystem of varied animals that keep the reefs alive and healthy. With their presence noted in St. Croix, it is of utmost importance that we monitor their presence and preserve our world-class reefs.

Michelle Pugh at Dive Experience told me that St. Croix has the best response team to this invasive species she has seen so far, and I think that is due to the early awareness and proactive organization of the community in partnership with Fish & Wildlife. In spreading the word to locals and tourists alike, everyone who goes for a snorkel or a dive in our beautiful tropical waters can be on the lookout for these stripy, spiny predators. Michelle herself has found two lionfish at the Salt River underwater canyon.

Lionfish stay within an area of five feet for several days at a time, so divers who spot one can leave a marker and then alert DPNR Fish & Wildlife, or even just let one of the local dive shops know so they can contact the right people to search for and capture the fish. The homemade markers are made of a metal washer connected to a wine cork wrapped in red tape. This DIY flag works well for marking a spot where a lionfish was spotted, and you can pick some up from DPNR, Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and most dive shops, along with an information card with a photo.

IF YOU SEE A LIONFISH:

1- Do not touch it! Lionfish spikes are highly poisonous!

2- Mark the location with a cork streamer. Take a GPS reading if you can or get a detailed description of the location.

3- Call DPNR immediately (anytime, 24/7) to report the sighting: (340) 643-0800 or (340) 773-1082.

4- Fill out the Lionfish reporting form from DPNR.

Dive Experience also does free dive trips once a month for experienced divers to search for lionfish at Buck Island National Monument and East End Marine Park. It’s a great (FREE) dive trip and is also a fantastic way to give back to the community and keep our St. Croix marine ecosystems free of this dangerous predator. You do have to be experienced and have navigational skills as a diver to go on this trip. The three tank dive takes place the last Saturday of every month and includes two dives at Buck Island and one at East End Marine Park. Pack a lunch for a picnic at the beach at Buck! If you’re a SCUBA enthusiast visiting St. Croix, it’s a great way to give back to our island by searching out lionfish, and you get a free dive trip out of it!

Please spread the word about the lionfish, the only way we can really combat this threat is with widespread knowledge throughout our community. Be sure you know what a lionfish looks like and to contact authorities as soon as you see one. Be sure to pick up a marker before your next dive or snorkel trip!

Read more about the lionfish here:

USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources

NOAA Ocean Service Education

Respect the Turtles

My family and I had a rare opportunity to observe the emergence of turtle hatchlings, and not just any turtles, but endangered Leather-backs.

(I could not wait to take photos of the entire event.)

This observation was led by a Fish and Wildlife employee, Laura, at Sandy Point National Refuge.  SEA (St. Croix Environmental Association) hosts these events during nesting & hatching season.

The groups are limited to about 30 people (we were about 22 adults…and 8 kiddos all under 4 years old.  I think the non-parents in the group were a little….worried), and there are rules you must follow.  One of which is no photos, please.

(Great.  How was I going to sneak the photos?)

Our group met at the entrance to Sandy Point at 5:15 and drove the main beach, where we parked and walked the short path to the beach. We were instructed to sit and wait patiently…while Laura walked the beach to search some 100 nests looking for baby turtle noses peaking out of the sand.  How cute is that?

So we waited patiently and discussed what a beautiful, calm but breezy night it was at Sandy Point.  The sun set was breath-taking in shades of deep pinks and blues.  Heck, we were on the beach – the kids kept them selves entertained.

After a short wait, Laura retrieved us, filled us in lines of two to walk down the beach where she located some turtle noses.  She was very diligent in making sure no other nests were disturbed during any of this process.  We sat in a semi-circle around the nest while she explained the entire, fascinating process.

(Where are the photos of the hatchlings, Anna?)

Well, I learned a very valid reason why they ask not to take photos.  Yes, the flash photography could dis-orient the endangered species; but more importantly, this is tedious and delicate process that your average Joe should not try to do.  Volunteers dedicate massive amounts of time in their lives (and sleepless nights) to observe, tag and protect female turtles laying their eggs.  They then tirelessly return to observe and assist the hatchlings.  All the while, collecting very important data on these intriguing animals.  Not something your average Joe should try to do.  I totally respect that and would not want to encourage ANYBODY to try this on their own.  And no photos in a blog entry are worth that.

So the process?  Well, I am not going to share that with you either.  You have to be a part of it yourself.  You have to experience it first hand to understand the greater good that is happening.  Buy me a drink at RumRunners one day and we can swap stories.  I’ll tell you about how my 19 month old stood still, awe-struck by the “tut-tles”.

I will share this with you:  My mother was choosen to release one of the hatchlings back into the water.  How exciting is that?  Only one in a 1000 survives to maturity to lay eggs.  Let’s hope it was hers.

Sandy Point National Refuge is closed February through June for nesting season.  Become a member of SEA and you get first dibs on observations.

Even Orcas Need A Vacation

This past week, my husband and his father took an afternoon charter out and guess what they came across?  A pod of about 15-20 Orcas.  Killer Whales.  In the Caribbean.  Rumors started flying- they didn’t know what they were talking about.  Some one even said there were “False Orcas”.  I think these are False, False Orcas.  These are the real deal, and there a pics to prove it.  I circulated them around island and non-island friends and family as I normally do, and lots of people have encouraged me to share them with all of you.  So here they are.

There is much speculation as to why these whales are this far south and this far west…and this far in our Caribbean waters.  Maybe despite the bad economy, they just decided it was time for a family vacation to the Caribbean, didn’t want to mess with the hassle of passports and decided to come to St. Croix!  (No Passport Required for U.S. Citizens and Orcas).

ENJOY!