DOMINICA Photo Gallery 3- Sea Turtle Giving Birth

Sea Turtle Conservation, Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica

Rosalie Bay Resort’s Sea Turtle Bus Stop


Sea Turtle Conservation is one of our favorite environmental issues. We’ve gone swimming with sea turtles in BarbadosHawaii, Mexico’s Riviera Maya and the Galapagos IslandsWe donate annually to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. And my daughter and I recently got to hand-feed them at the Bermuda Aquarium & Zoo. But rarely have we been to any place more passionate about sea turtle conservation than Rosalie Bay Resort on the Caribbean island of Dominica. The resort’s conservation efforts began back in 2003,  when they launched the Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative to help protect these endangered species from poachers (who eat both the turtles and their eggs), and they’ve since proven a leading light in the island’s ecotourism efforts.


Full Moon Over The Beach At Rosalie Bay Resort


We had just returned from a long, amazing day exploring the island’s Kalinago Territory, and were enjoying an excellent romantic meal at the resort’s Zamaan Restaurant. We were in the middle of a discussion on whether or not to have dessert when the restaurant’s phone rang. Our server immediately rushed over to us and explained that a sea turtle had been sighted on the resort’s beach and  was digging a nest, asking if we’d like to go see it (the resort staff asks when you check in if you’d like to be notified when turtles come ashore). Of course we said yes, so our server grabbed his cell phone flashlight and led us down the rock-strewn path that led to the beach. Honestly, we probably could’ve have found our own way, as there was a gorgeous full moon illuminating the shoreline.


Leatherback Sea Turtle Giving Birth, Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica

A 1000-pound Leatherback Sea Turtle On The Rosalie Bay Beach


As I mentioned, we’ve had a LOT of experience with sea turtles. But nothing could’ve prepared us for the sight that greeted our eyes as Nature Enhancement Team leader Simon George waved us over with a tiny red LED flashlight: A 1000-pound female leatherback turtle about to give birth!  At this point, it must be noted that you should NEVER use white lights or flash photography when nesting turtles are aroundSimon, who knew we were there as journalists covering Dominica’s ecotourism initiatives for numerous publications, specifically asked us to document the event for our readers to help educate them about the island’s sea turtle conservation efforts.


Leatherback_Sea_Turtle_Lays_Eggs, Dominica

The First of More Than 100 Eggs Laid By The Nesting Turtle


Simon explained that the turtle had come up on the beach around 7PM, gradually making her way to a high point on the black sand beach and using her massive back flippers to dig a hole approximately 12 inches across and 18 inches down. Simon and his assistant, a fellow volunteer from the local community, took the turtle’s measurements– nearly 6 feet for the carapace, or shell, not including her feet and head. As Simon notated the turtle’s size and distinguishing marks in a journal, we watched her settling into place, and could barely contain our excitement as she began squeezing out 2-3 shiny white eggs at a time!


Leatherback Sea Turtle Laying Eggs, Dominica

A Great Perspective Shot Of Her MASSIVE Size


At Simon’s urging, I began snapping photos like crazy, eager to document every moment of this unbelievable experience. This photo shows just how massive this turtle mama was in comparison to Simon’s assistant– easily a foot taller and 5 times the girth. As the eggs began dropping, the volunteer got into position,  gathering them up by the handful and putting them into a bag so that they can later be moved further up the beach, above the high water line. Otherwise, as the tide rises, the eggs would be washed out to sea.


Leatherback Sea Turtle Laying Eggs, Dominica

Gathering The Eggs Before Moving Them To Higher, Safer Ground


In the course of an hour, she dropped more than 100 eggs, each of them about halfway between the size of a ping pong ball and a tennis ball. There were also a few smaller cushioning “spacer” eggs, which Simon explained contain only yolk and help to prevent the other eggs from getting crushed.


Leatherback Sea Turtle, Rosalie Bay, Dominica

Mama Turtle, In A Trance-like State


When I expressed concern that my camera’s flash might interfere with the process and disturb the mama turtle, Simon explained that, once they start laying eggs, turtles enter a trance-like state, during which they seem oblivious to anything else going on around them. Sure enough, she remained virtually motionless during the egg-laying process, never turning her head as she focused intently on the task at hand.


Sea Turtle Buries Nest, Dominica

Hiding The Evidence By Burying Her Nest With Sand


After squeezing out enough eggs to fill the bag, mama turtle rested for a few minutes before slowly starting to move. Easing a few steps forward, she began to use her huge front flippers to propel sand back towards the hole. Simon explained that she was filling it in to disguise the hole, and that this was just the first step in what would prove to be an elaborate camouflaging process designed to hide her babies from predators.


Sea Turtle Buries Nest, Rosalie Bay Resort

Making A Sand Angel & Camouflaging Her Nest At The Same Time= WIN!


Gradually, the mama turtle moved her monolithic form in a complete 360˚ circle around her nest, replicating the cover-up process over and over again. In the process of covering the spot where her babies would’ve been, she also covered herself and all of the volunteers and onlookers present, leaving us laughing hysterically. We get out of the way and renew our conversation with Simon, only to find her rotating and flipping sand nearly 20 yards in our direction! But the results were incredible, as soon it was nearly impossible to tell that a 1000-pound sea turtle had been in the area at all.


Leatherback Sea Turtle Returns To The Sea, Dominica

Her Work Done, Mama Turtle Returns To The Sea


After she’d finished with her work, mama turtle gradually made her way back towards the sea, huffing and puffing from her exertion every step of the way. We could tell that she was thoroughly exhausted, and we quietly cheered her on as she would heave her heavy body a few steps forward, stop to rest for a few seconds, then take another few steps towards the surf. I walked beside her every step of the way, so intent on capturing the scene that I forgot I still had shoes on, kicking them off just in time to snap this shot as she finally reached the water. The moment was absolutely exhilarating– one of the coolest wildlife encounters we’ve ever had!


Rosalie Bay Sea Turtle Hatchery

Rosalie Bay’s Sea Turtle Hatchery


The next day, we walked down in the daylight to get a better look at Rosalie Bay’s Sea Turtle Hatchery, which is located on the other side of a 20-foot wide tidepool inlet that crosses the resort’s beach. Here, a simple camp made from plastic tarps and cardboard box-covered pallets provides shelter for the volunteers, who work from the early evening until morning, watching for turtles and keeping the beach clear of debris that would prevent baby turtles from reaching the sea. They also bury the turtle eggs in garden-like marked rows, noting the anticipated hatch day and cordoning the area off to protect it from poachers.


Baby leatherback

Baby Leatherback Turtle (by Dtobias, courtesy Creative Commons)


When it’s time for the turtles to hatch, resort staff, travelers and members of the volunteer community all come out to watch, helping to ensure that the baby turtles reach the sea safely. The odds against their long-term survival are not very good, but the people of Dominica seem intent on doing their part to ensure that their island remains a safe haven for sea turtles for many, many years to come.  –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett (except where otherwise noted)


You Might Also Like: 

Snorkeling With Sea Turtles In Mexico’s Riviera Maya 

DOMINICA Photo Gallery 1 – Whales, Waterfalls & Mountains

DOMINICA Photo Gallery 2- Kalinago Territory & Cassava Bread Bakery

DOMINICA Photo Gallery 4- Cabrits National Park & Indian River

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  1. This is absolutely amazing. How wonderful to be able to see that in person! And it’s heartwarming to read about all the conservation efforts that are taking place to ensure the survival of more sea turtles.

  2. Seeing a turtle laying her eggs is a fabulous experience. When I was living out in the Seychelles we had Hawksbill and Green turtles regularly coming up to lay on the beach – it was a fantastic thing to be able to witness! It always struck me how they’re so poorly suited to land work, plodding laboriously up the beach, yet as soon as they hit the water they’re like torpedoes!

  3. This sounds like such an amazing experience! I love turtles, and I’ve been to a sea turtle rehabilitation center in the FL Keys, but this sounds so awesome!

    • Thanks, Laura! I nitpick about the lighting and color and composition, but in the end the fact that we were able to document the experience for the world to see is more awesome and important than getting the perfect photo. It was truly a magical night.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with the Momma Turtle. It brings back memories of our honeymoon when Steve and I got to witness the same experience in Cancun. Pictures and words can’t begin to express for me the experience of watching the Momma Turtle lay her eggs. It was a magical time for us.

    • Thanks for sharing the story, Florence. Somewhere up in heaven, I imagine Steve is grinning from ear to ear right now.

  5. I don’t know what’s cooler – the fact that you saw this all happen or that the hotel literally calls you up at dinner to let you know it’s all happening so you don’t miss it! Here in Mexico we have some turtles living off the reef apparently, so we’re hoping to see them and finally have a sea turtle encounter, too!

    • We’ve had a remarkable streak of luck when it comes to sea turtle encounters, so we’ve send some of our positive turtle vibes your way! 🙂

  6. I wondered if your flash would disturb them when I saw your photos but glad to know that it doesn’t! What a fantastic opportunity for you guys.

    • Yeah, I actually hesitated to shoot photos until Simon insisted that it was OK. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.

    • It was definitely one of the most amazing wildlife encounters I’ve ever had, and that’s obviously saying something.

  7. Pretty amazing opportunity for you guys. Glad there are people looking to help the turtles. What is causing them problems? Is it something like human interference in the eggs or I kind of remember reading something about chemicals making the eggs really thin.

    • The big problem is that, for centuries, people in the Caribbean (and other parts of the world) have considered turtles and their eggs a valuable food source. Now, as sea turtle populations have dwindled for numerous reasons (predators, getting caught in commercial fishing nets, etc), eating them has been outlawed, but for some people old habits die hard. Poaching is a big problem, but Dominica seems to be doing everything they can to protect them.

  8. Obviously this is an issue very close to my heart! 🙂
    Great photos and amazing experience for you! I imagine it would be really strange to be watching this and not have the animal even realise you’re there. Usually wild animals run away as quickly as they can!

    • It was a little weird, but also very cool. Having been there for the birth of my own child, I immediately understood the mama turtle’s heavy breathing, glazed-over eyes and deliberate movements. In this case, there was nothing we could do to help, so we just tried to stay out of her way and document as much of the experience as possible. AMAZING is definitely a good word for it.

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  21. Bret,
    A very cool story and I am sure you will carry these memories for the rest of your life. Great photos and what an amazing creature! Thanks for sharing. So good of the locals to get invloved in this project and allow you access!

    • Yes, we felt very fortunate that they encouraged us to document the experience. Hopefully we can do our part for the turtles, and Dominica, by spreading awareness of their initiative and encouraging more people to travel to this little-known Caribbean gem.

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