A volunteer with the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park-funded Sea Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program strolled Maho Bay on Sunday morning searching for signs of new life — telltale crawl marks and a disturbed area of sand near the tree line indicating a female sea turtle had come ashore overnight to lay her eggs.
Instead, the volunteer was confronted with a large juvenile green sea turtle in distress.
“She spotted a turtle floating lifeless in the swim area,” said Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Willow Melamet. “When I arrived, the turtle was on the beach with a group of individuals closely looking after it. After examining the turtle, it was clear that this was a fatal boat strike injury. However, the turtle was still alive.”
The turtle appeared to be in great overall health with a “robust body condition” prior to sustaining severe injuries from a boat propeller, Melamet continued. Sea turtles can sustain significant trauma like a boat strike injury yet take days, or even weeks, to succumb to the injury. In the case of the turtle discovered at Maho, it was decided that euthanasia would be the best course of action. The turtle was transported to Canines, Cats, and Critters, where it was put down humanely.
“I have learned through my many years of sea turtle rehabilitation that euthanasia in certain circumstances is in part a gift that we can and should provide,” said Melamet.
The fatal injury suffered by the turtle at Maho was the fourth known case on island this year, with the others occurring at Honeymoon, Salomon, and Round Bay.
“Maho Bay is one of the most important foraging grounds for juvenile and subadult green sea turtles in the V.I.,” said Melamet. “However, this sanctuary is seeing an unprecedented increase of human-based stressors. Many of the turtles at Maho are plagued with the contagious fibropapilloma virus and have several tumors around the eyes and soft tissue areas of the flippers. The turtles need our help now more than ever both on land with nest protection and in the water. My hope is that we can work toward finding a more harmonious balance between people, boats, and sea turtles.”
The good news
In happier news, the Friends Turtle Program completed a nest excavation Sunday evening of the first hatched nest of the season, resulting in 137 critically endangered hawksbill hatchlings entering the sea.
“The next generation has started their journey,” said Melamet. “Now it’s up to all of us to help continue to protect the beaches and waters of St. John so that in 30 years from now, they will have a safe place to return home to.”
To report a sick or injured turtle, call 340-690-0474.