PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The waves breaking on the beach make the only sound at night above the whisper of volunteers with flashlights watching as five-foot, 800 pound turtles slowly make their way up the shore in Grand Riviere, Trinidad, to lay eggs for what will be the next generation.
At one of the most important nesting beaches for leatherback sea turtles in the Caribbean, in Trinidad and Tobago, visitors* have the opportunity to get in on the action and take part in the miraculous life-cycle of the endangered species.
“Ensuring that the leatherback turtle population is protected is an important initiative for both our national environmental agencies and the Ministry of Tourism,” according to Stephen Cadiz, minister of tourism. “Each year, Trinidad and Tobago welcomes visitors from all over the world who are interested in seeing the turtles in their natural habitat as well as the opportunity to aid researchers who are tirelessly working to record data about the turtle population. It is vitally important to the world eco-system and our own tourism that, worldwide, everything is done to protect the endangered turtles.”
Each year from March to September, as many as 12,000 nesting turtles come to the beaches of Trinidad, after traveling thousands of miles, to lay eggs on the beaches where they were born. Initiatives by hotels and local organizations are encouraging both residents and visitors to experience the yearly rituals of the mother turtles and their hatchings, while ensuring that the important nesting sites are not harmed. A way to give back to Mother Nature, those who participate not only aid researchers but are often inspired to become activists for the diminishing world-wide leatherback population.
At Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel in Trinidad, guests are offered complimentary, guided voluntourism experiences to watch, and possibly assist, the life cycle of these massive, prehistoric creatures. Finalizing renovations to its outdoor terrace, reception area and first floor guest rooms just in time for 2013 season, the Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel has taken precautions to ensure that the renovations will not affect the beach or the nesting areas.
With five standalone cottages that each feature a private sundeck, Acajou, is the ideal getaway for visitors who want to ensure they leave a small eco-footprint behind in Trinidad as the resort takes important steps to protect the environment, including reusing water and avoiding the use of pesticides throughout the property. Nestled in between a beach, a crystal clear river and rainforest covered mountains, the resort will be offering hotel and restaurant guests a lecture series with local activities after dinner throughout turtle season before nightly guided tours of the beach.
An intimate, eleven room resort, the Anise Resort and Spa offers guests complimentary transportation to Grand Riviere Beach to watch the nightly nesting with a knowledgeable guide. The hotel offers guests bed and breakfast packages during the nesting season and also caters to group travelers.
On the sister island of Tobago, visitors do not have to forego the turtle watching experience. Visitors staying at the seaside Turtle Beach Hotel can add their names to the “turtle watch list” and be alerted by staff when turtles can be seen on the resort’s beach.
Meanwhile, several local and international organizations, such as Turtle Village Trust, Nature Seekers, See Turtles and Save Our Sea Turtles, are working within the community and with visitors to ensure that that the turtles and their environment are protected while educating those who wish to help the endangered turtles. The government of Trinidad and Tobago continues to be instrumental in local conservation efforts with several government bodies, including the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Housing and The Environment, the Trinidad and Tobago Environmental Management Authority and the Trinidad and Tobago Forestry Division, working together to ensure the safety and sustainability of the turtle population.
The nightly volunteer work involves taking part in beach patrols, looking for nesting adult female turtles and helping researchers collect data while protecting nests. Depending on the timing of the visit, volunteers may also help hatchlings make the journey from nest to sea.
To participate in the life cycle of the leatherback turtles while visiting Trinidad and Tobago is an experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression. To help mother turtles make their way along the beach or ensuring the safety of the baby hatchlings gives volunteers the opportunity to become a part of nature, while helping the species to survive for generations to come.
*Only a limited number of permits are distributed per day, so visitors need to ensure that they apply for permits early, which can be obtained from the Trinidad and Tobago Forestry Division.