Summary of the 2015 Leatherback Sea Turtle Nesting at Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge, St. Croix, USVI

Famale Leatherback turtle lays eggs while observed by a Geographic Consulting intern.

Famale Leatherback turtle lays eggs while observed by a Geographic Consulting intern.

The 2015 leatherback sea turtle nesting season at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge in St. Croix concluded in August and we have since been analyzing data. We now know much more about the 2015 season at Sandy point. This informal report shares some of these findings and puts the results in perspective with previous years

A Nesting leatherback disguised her nest in the light of dawn

A Nesting leatherback disguises her nest in the light of dawn

All of the data has been collected and analyzed, the reports written and we now know a lot more about the 2015 leatherback nesting season at Sandy Point. Nesting started in late February and continued through the second week of August. Throughout those five months, 83 leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) nested at Sandy Point. For the last three years, we’ve seen almost exactly the same number of nesting turtles at Sandy Point (84 turtles in both 2013 and 2014). This is a departure from the pattern we’d seen for at least the last decade where in odd years we had a lot more nesting turtles than in even years. The reason for this departure from the well-established pattern is still not clear.

Field Director, Rachel Arney with a nesting "Dawn Turtle".

Field Director, Rachel Arney with a nesting “Dawn Turtle”.

Of these 83 female nesting leatherback turtles, 64 had nested at Sandy Point in previous years, 17 were neophyte nesters and 2 had nested on other beaches previously, but never on Sandy Point.  By contacting other turtle nesting projects, we learned that both of these turtles were originally tagged in St. Kitts and one of them had not been seen since 2010. We also learned that both of these turtles nested at both St. Kitts and Sandy Point in 2015. In addition to our visitors from St. Kitts, we also encountered turtles that were nesting on Puerto Rico and Sandy Point this year. With the addition of these 19 new nesters, a total of 1,135 individuals have been recorded nesting at Sandy Point since 1981.

Leatherback turtles eggs

Leatherback turtles eggs

Leatherback hatchling emerge from a nest

Leatherback hatchling emerge from a nest

Although the number of nesting turtles has been almost the same for the last few years, the number of nests they laid has varied by as many as 50 nests. In 2015, we recorded 383 nests laid at Sandy Point. In 2014 and 2013 we recorded 338 and 361 nests respectively. Although these are solid numbers, they pale in comparison to some of the “big” years at Sandy Point where well over 900 nests were recorded.

A major part of our conservation program involves moving nests that are in danger of being washed out, to a safer part of the beach. On average, we relocate about 30% of nests. The 2015 season was marked by the second consecutive year of an abnormal erosion pattern, resulting in an unusual distribution of nests and difficulty in predicting which nests to relocate. This was compounded by the deposition of large, wide mats of sargassum, primarily along the south beach (grassy side), further limiting the amount of suitable nesting beach. As a result we only needed to relocate 19% of nests. As a result of our efforts, an estimated 2,345 hatchlings emerged from nests that would have otherwise been washed away.

Project Director, Jen Valiulis (left) and members of Geographic Consulting's 2015 Turtle Team

Project Director, Jen Valiulis (left) and members of Geographic Consulting’s 2015 Turtle Team

St. Croix experienced a severe drought during the 2015 nesting season. Although the dry sand made it more difficult for turtles to dig their nests, the most detrimental effect was the abysmally low hatch success (hatch success -= number of turtles that actually hatch from eggs).  The average hatch success over the last few years has generally been around 55% – 60%, but in 2015, hatch success dropped to 48%. Although the 2015 drought was extreme and unusual, climate change models predict that droughts will become more common in the future.  Despite this low hatch success, 12,093 hatchlings emerged from their nests this year. We hope to see them back in St Croix one day as adults!


Of course, none of this work could have been completed without the relentless effort from our 2015 Field Crew.  Our 6 person crew patrolled the beach, tagged turtles and excavated nests 7 days a week for over four months. Their dedication resulted in our increased knowledge of the condition of the nesting population at Sandy Point. Their nest relocation work resulted in thousands of hatchlings taking to the sea that would have been lost to erosion.

Our 2015 Leatherback Interns hard at work

Our 2015 Leatherback Interns hard at work





Finally, we still have a few shirts from the 2015 season !!. We are selling them now, below cost at $10/ea.  Please message me to see if we have your size.




Drew DeVivo2016-03-01 20:33:58

I'd love a shirt! I wear size XL. I love what you guys are doing. Matt's my cousin, sort of (thru marriage). Keep up the good work!!!

Renee Thomes2016-03-02 01:45:30

Hello, I am interested in a shirt. Would take a small, large or 2 XL. Renee Thomes

bdaley2016-03-15 01:19:06

Hi drew. good to hear from you. please send me your mailing address to me at and I will send you an XL shirt. Send us a check for $10 when you have a chance. also, give my best to Matt next time you see him. brian

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