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Island Roots Captures Leatherback Nesting!

Island Roots charter guests pose behind a leatherback turtle as a BVI turtle volunteer measures the nest.

This is absolutely incredible.

Ryan Granger, a boat captain for Island Roots Boat Charters – was cruising along the Northside of Tortola in an area that is usually free of beachgoers when he noticed two men standing in street clothes, rather than swimwear, Sunday. Realizing this was an unusual sight, Captain Ryan drove closer to shore to get a better look.

The two men appeared to be leaning over something quite large on the sand. As Ryan got even closer, he realized that it was a very large sea turtle.

“It was humungous,” Ryan told me yesterday with clear excitement in his voice.

The turtle turned out to be a female leatherback, which is the largest species of sea turtle. Leatherbacks are typically four to six feet long and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds. Ryan estimated this leatherback was approximately four-and-a-half feet long.

Leatherbacks are not a common sight here in the Virgin Islands, although they are one of three species that call our waters home. We tend to see Green and Hawksbill turtles more than leatherbacks in our waters here in St. John. It is even more uncommon to see one nesting on our beaches.

Ryan said the leatherback appeared to be burying eggs in the sand. It looked as if she’d been doing so in the hot sun for several hours.

“It was unusual because they usually lay their eggs at night,” he said Tuesday morning.

The men who Ryan saw in street clothes tagged and measured the turtle. They appeared to be working as part of a British Virgin Islands turtle patrol program much like what we have here in St. John, Ryan said.

Leatherbacks nest every two to three years, according to the Virgin Islands National Park. They can nest four to seven times a season, and lay an average of 80 eggs. Those eggs take just over two months to hatch.

The majority of sea turtle nests found on St. John are from Hawksbill turtles. While these turtles can nest year-round, the peak season is from August to November. The last time a leatherback nest was found on St. John was back in 2022. Prior to that, it was 2016.

“It was very special,” Ryan said of Sunday’s encounter. “That’s the first one I have ever seen. I haven’t seen one nesting. It was impressive.”

Check out the video:

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