VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project Celebrates 25 Years Researching Turtle Nesting Ecology

In my last post I reminisced about my childhood fascination with aquatic turtles. As a young hobbyist and amateur naturalist I had amassed a collection of these shelled reptiles to the dismay of my parents.  Back then it seemed that with every coming year, I needed a bigger tank or pool to house my assortment of ancient, cold-blooded beasts–contemporaries of the dinosaurs. Some grew, but some certainly arrived larger than those existing residents who first made my house their home in previous years. 

I’d like to think that I had created an educational exhibit for the neighbors as opposed to just a growing menagerie of wet herpetiles.

I now am much more cognizant of the impact the pet trade has on freshwater turtle conservation.  Whether one is depleting wild populations or expanding the range of common species through introducing captive-born animals to the wild–the impact takes its toll. 

In my previous post I somehow failed to mention one of the iconic conservationists who inspired my passion for herpetology and my novice attempt to curate of a collection of select herpetofuana.

Dr. Archie Carr was a naturalist, an iconic conservationist, and a highly esteemed herpetologist. His book So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles introduced me to some of the most majestic creatures I have ever learned about–marine turtles. They are quite different from their fresh and brackish water cousins and perhaps a bit more graceful in the water.

I’m quite certain that I had seen a sea turtle in captivity prior to reading the book.  Unfortunately, such a captive ambassadors commonly viewed in public–as important as they are–tell only a snapshot of the life history of these chelonians.

All 7 marine turtle species are threatened. The bulk of these threats are human-induced from pollution to loss of habitat.  In fact, only a few large nesting sites for some of the species exist today. The hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles comprise those with particularly marginal nesting grounds of good size. However, all marine turtles are recognized internationally as a species of conservation concern and thanks to some dedicated organizations efforts to save these turtles are making a difference.

I’d like to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project, the longest running hawksbill sea turtle research program in the world. Supported by the Jumby Bay Island Company, the conservation project is embraced by indigenous people and visitors to the private island off Antigua’s coast. Antigua, itself, is an island in the West Indies. 

I first learned about this project through the organization’s former Field Project Director, Seth Stapleton. Seth continues to work with the organization, but has gone on to study another pelagic, marine species–the polar bear–for his PhD.

Photo (by Dominic Tilley): WE5252

It is on Pasture Beach, a 450 meter stretch of calcareous sand, that Seth and his colleagues return to each June to monitor hawksbill turtle nesting activity.  The team patrols the beach between dusk and dawn–the only period of time when the hawksbills nest.

Hourly census work is conducted on the nesting turtles during the patrols in conjunction with studies of nesting habitat and specifics regarding the size and condition of previously tagged individuals. Unmarked turtles receive a flipper tag and a notch in their carapace.  All of this information helps the team “monitor the reproductive output, population status and demographics, and long-term trends of Jumby Bay’s hawksbill colony.”

WE5252 (pictured above) returned to sea at 5:30AM on June 30th, 2011 according to an entry in a JBHP blog post earlier this past summer. The update goes on to indicate that “preseason patrols in May revealed 8 nests, bringing the total to 56 nests.” 

Studying nesting activity can be tedious, but it is critical to learning about the reproductive ecology of a hawskbill colony. There was good news overall. “Despite changes in beach landscape due to erosion and seaweed buildup in the off-season, turtles have been nesting more successfully this [2011 season]. So far, successful nest attempts have outnumbered unsuccessful attempts or ‘false crawls’, contrary to what has been shown in previous years. Turtles [nested] across all sections of Pasture Beach [this season], even where activity has traditionally been sporadic (e.g. the middle of the beach containing vegetation islands).”


    antigua west indies
    February 19, 2012, 4:38 pm

    This Project is fab… and renews one faith in helping protect nature and our fragile environment. I have spent many a night with the turtle researchers.. “BIG UP TO THEM” for their care for the turtles and the project .. ck this out for more


  2. Christopher Terlaga
    Salt Lake City, utah
    August 21, 2011, 6:04 pm

    I personally know one of the JBHP field workers and have even had the honor and pleasure to experience a very small portion of the project with her. Let me tell you, these people bust their behinds, sometimes literally, and make huge sacrifices to help, research and preserve the well being and habitats of these truly amazing creatures. Kathryn Levasseur, a good friend of mine, long term JBHP field worker and active biologist has dedicated the last four years of her life (2008-2011) to the JBHP with barely any time for anything else. Kathryn is one of the hardest and most thorough workers I know right to the finish. She and all the others who participate do not get nearly enough credit and recognition for their efforts and hard work. The island is beautiful but the teams long nightly hours leave little or no time for enjoyment in paradise. It is a relief to see this particular project appear in a National Geographic article, although, I hope it is not the last! Great job guys!

  3. John Guy
    Michigan, US
    August 20, 2011, 12:52 pm

    Having visited this site nand experienced the thrill of seeing these primitive creatures single-mindedly scuffling up the beach, digging a hole and depositing eggs, and then later seeing the babies magically appear out of the sand, I am thrilled to see recognition of this successful and long term project. Thank you.