This week was a good week for WAC. We met Sabine Berendse, a very eager and caring lady with a unique passion for turtles of all shapes and sizes. She told us so much about sea turtle life on Curacao. It was great fun and incredibly educational!
Sabine has worked in several nature oriented foundations and thus has an incredibly awesome background in working with wildlife on Curacao, which makes her the perfect candidate for the job. She is the WIDECAST country coordinator since July, so they now have the international network support and they are also greatly supported by Sea turtle conservation Bonaire. She was excited to tell their story, so we quickly dived into the subject of turtle activity and care on Curacao.
I remember that in elementary school they taught us that sea turtles are endangered and that we shouldn’t eat them or use their shells anymore. But then a while later, the hype disappeared and I never heard anything special about them again. Quite frankly, I forgot they were even endangered at one point. So you can imagine my surprise when Sabine explained that we have quite the amount of sea turtle activity on the island, with especially loggerhead and hawksbill turtles frequenting our beaches. Research from the early 90’s showed that several beaches in the current ‘Shete Boka National Park’ were frequently used as nesting sites. With the two most popular beaches from that research now being monitored three times a week. Besides that, they were informed and were able to confirm turtle activity at several beaches on the south side of the island, like Cas Abou, Kenepa Chikí and Porto Marie.
CARMABI & Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao
We were a bit surprised to hear that the program, that is officially run by CARMABI, only exists for about 7 to 8 months now. Sabine then goes on to explain that she followed a two-week intense course in Sea Turtle Conservation in Barbados, where they have more than 25 years of experience taking care of sea turtles and their environment. Sabine tells us that she was only supposed to stay for a week, but she loved the course so much she took a week’s worth of vacation days from work, just so she could dig in to it more (literally, hehe).
Now that she’s back she’s been working hard to increase turtle awareness on Curacao. At the Marine Education Center at CARMABI they setup a special spot for sea turtles. Here you can learn more about turtles and their environment. They officially monitor two beaches that are suspected to have about 15 nests from Hawksbill and Loggerhead sea turtles. And on Klein Curaçao they suspect that there are several nests of Green Turtles.
When we asked Sabine what she thinks is the best thing about her job she quickly replies that she enjoys examining the nests and that it’s incredibly rewarding to see that all the eggs have hatched and made their way to the sea.
But of course, every job has their lesser sides as well. She explains that it’s quite frustrating that people don’t really have a grasp on how much damage they can cause. Not only by activities like taking sand from beaches, but also from not picking up after themselves or walking over other people’s trash while visiting the beach.
“Sea turtles are still very much endangered” says Sabine “with a total of more than 70% already gone.” If that doesn’t shock you, we don’t know what would. That’s a remarkable number, which (luckily) ensured an immense international pressure for preservation.
Junior Ranger Program
CARMABI encourages the youth to learn more about our island’s wildlife and even has a special program for those between the ages of about 15 and 18 who seek further knowledge and wish to get more involved; the Junior Rangers. These guys get training and hands on experience, including working with the Sea Turtle Conservation. Just last weekend two of their Junior Rangers got to experience the marvels of seeing a nest emerge from the sand and plunge into the ocean.
Importance of Sea Turtles
Wondering why sea turtles are so important? Sabine explains that sea turtles contribute a great deal to our underwater ecosystem by controlling sea grass growth. By chomping down on these greens they make sure they stay shorter and spread on the ocean bottom, thus ensuring healthy beds of seagrass and keeping seaweed under control. Some sea turtles also like to eat jellyfish and they also contribute to the land by feeding the sand with healthy nutrients that get absorbed in to the sand from the egg shells. If sea turtles go extinct both the beach and marine ecosystem will suffer great harm.
How can you help?
Now maybe you started asking yourself how you can aid in this wonderful cause. Well… we got you covered. Here are some ways you can assist the Sea Turtle Conservation team.
First of all, Sabine says, please don’t disturb a nesting sea turtle. It’s also very important to call them if you notice any activity or see tracks on the beach. You can call them during office hours at (+5999)864 – 0363 or call Sabine directly on her mobile (+5999)565 – 2271 and she’ll come check out the spot a.s.a.p. Furthermore it’s important that if you know there’s a nest on a beach, or if you are present while eggs are hatching, that you turn off all lights, or block them when possible. Sea turtle hatchlings are extremely sensitive to light and will travel directly towards it. All turtles get disorientated and spooked by lights. This means that if you are taking a picture of them (with flash) while they’re trying to find their way to the ocean they will instead walk towards the light. Also keep the lights off for a while, since even if they reach the water they still have the tendency to return to land if the light is very strong. Please note that turtles usually hatch around the time the sun sets, when the sand starts to get cooler. They can also hatch after a good rain-pour. Of course it is of great importance to keep the beaches clean. We wouldn’t want any of those little guys or their mums getting stuck in anything now, would we?
The folks at Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao need more volunteers. This implies that they would need your time and dedication at least one or two days a week and that your tasks would include activities like beach monitoring. Most beaches they observe are currently located on the west side of the island.
“Curacao still has a long way to go when it comes to sea turtle conservation” says Sabine, “Especially when compared to nearby islands like Bonaire that in the meanwhile have more than twenty years of experience in the protection and care of turtles.”
For more information on the foundation and more images of these cute lil’ guys, please visit their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SeaTurtleConservationCuracao
It was a wonderful experience to talk to Sabine and see and feel her enthusiasm. She certainly loves what she does! Thank you Sabine for a wonderful interview. We look forward to updating our fans on your delightful work at Sea Turtle Conservation Curacao.
Until next time, guys. And remember to keep an eye out for turtle tracks next time you hit the beach!