Department of Planning and Natural Resources
Division of Fish and Wildlife
U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #17
SEA TURTLE NESTING
Tracks of sea turtles that commonly nest in the U.S. Virgin Islands and surrounding islands.
5 ft rc
All sea turtles lay their eggs in nests that they
dig on sandy beaches. The nests are dug with
their rear flippers. The depth of the nest is
dependent on the length of the rear flippers. When
the female turtle can no longer reach the sand at
the bottom of the nest with its flippers, the nest is
deep enough. The turtle then begins to drop the
eggs into the nest. The eggs are soft shelled so
they do not break when they drop on top of each
When the female has laid all her eggs, she
covers the nest with sand and returns to the sea.
Turtles do not exhibit any parental care. They
may never see their hatchlings.
The temperature at which the eggs are
incubated determines the sex of sea turtles.
Warmer temperatures mean more females hatch
than males. Colder temperatures mean more males
hatch than females.
The hatchlings emerge by breaking open the
shell and "swimming" up through the sand
covering the nest. They find their own way to the
beach and into the water. The hatchlings
instinctively head for areas with brighter light,
which once was the open ocean. On beaches with
no artificial lights or towns in the distance, star
and moon light shining down and reflecting off the
waters surface is brighter than the inland vegetated
areas. Today, lights shining on the beaches guide
hatchlings inland where they are run over by cars,
eaten by cats, dogs and pigs as well as other
animals looking for easy food. It is very important
that the hatchlings make it to the water as quickly
as possible. So please turn off lights that shine on
and near the beach.
Sea turtles nest throughout the US Virgin
Islands. They have been recorded nesting on
nearly every sandy beach in the territory.
Leatherback turtles, the biggest of the VI
turtles, nest in the middle of large sandy beaches,
that are not blocked by reefs and have deep water
nearby. Leatherback tracks are distinctive because
of their large size. Tracks may be 5 to 7 feet wide.
They actively disguise the location of their nests
often making the beach look like a bulldozer had
been driving on it.
Green turtle nests are found high up on the
beach near the vegetation line. They frequently
dig nests in the short coastal beach vegetation.
Their nests characteristically are large cone shaped
pits about 1 to 1.5 feet deep.
Hawksbills nest far up on the beach. They
generally nest underneath the branches of coastal
trees and scrub. The Hawksbill is also the only
turtle in the VI that uses an alternating gait (the
same way a dog or cat walks) when on land. All
other sea turtles pull-push themselves along the
sand (all 4 flippers move at the same time). This
can be used to determine if a turtle track belongs
to a Hawksbill or Green turtle.
Table of basic nesting and reproductive
parameters for sea turtles found nesting in the
Hawksbill Green Leatherback Loggerhead
#Eggs 140 136 116 100-126
Days to 60 ave.* 64 ave. 63 ave. 62 ave.
hatch (54-88) (55-75) (53-68)
Hatching 80% -80% 55-75% 55-73%
between 2-3 2-4 2-3 2-3
Nesting 14 days 13 days 10 days 14 days
Nests per 4.5 ave. 2.5 ave. 6 ave. 4.1 ave.
season (12 max) (7 max) (11 max) (7 max)
ave. = average
What you can do to help
1. If you see any turtle nesting or hatching
events, please write down the date, time and
location you saw the turtles then call the
Division of Fish and Wildlife at 340-772-1955
(on St. Croix) or 340-775-6762 (on St.
Thomas/St. John) to report the event.
2. Hatchlings can crawl to the water themselves.
If you see hatchlings making their way into the
water, please let them complete the journey
3. Please make an extra effort to keep plastic out
of the marine environment.
4. Turtles, especially hatchlings, will head
toward the brightest light source on the beach.
This used to be star and moon light shining on
the ocean, but today it may be street or
building lights. If you have security or safety
lights near the beach use low intensity sodium
vapor lights and build shades around the light
so the beach is not directly illuminated. If
possible turn off lights that shine on and
toward the beach, when hatchlings are
5. Do not take flash pictures or shine lights
directly toward the turtles it will disorient
them. Like us, turtle eyes will maintain the
ghost image of the flash, only the hatchlings
see this as a bright area and will crawl toward
6. If hatchlings emerge during the day and get
caught in vegetation, you can help by keeping
them safe from predators and if they are
heading inland, guiding them to the waters
7. If you see hatchlings at night in parking lots,
roads and other places where they are heading
away from the ocean, please gently pick them
up and take them to a nearby dark beach and
release them at the waters edge.
8. If you see a nesting turtle do not crowd around
it and do not harass it. You may observe
nesting from a distance by staying behind the
front flippers of the turtle. No flash
9. Occasionally turtles will nest during the day. If
you see a daytime nesting sea turtle, please
call the Division of Fish and Wildlife
10. If you see someone harassing a sea turtle or
poaching a nest, call the local police (911) or
the local Division of Environmental
Enforcement, STT 340-774-3320,
11. For more information on this and other
animals in the Virgin Islands please visit our
web site at: www.vifishandwildlife.com
PRODUCED IN 2003 by W. Coles
THIS PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED
WITH FUNDS FROM THE WILDLIFE
CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON
OUR NATIVE ANIMALS CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THOMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227