Bonaire’s Sea Turtles
Bonaire is home to three of the world’s seven species of sea turtles. Green and hawksbill turtles can be seen year-round, while loggerheads generally visit only during the nesting season.
Sea Turtle Species Found on Bonaire
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
The green turtle has a round face. Its shell plates (scutes) do not overlap, and the edge of the shell (carapace) is smooth and often scalloped (but not serrated) toward the rear of the body. Green turtles weigh up to 230 kg (500 lbs), though on Bonaire most are much smaller. Bonaire has a juvenile and sub-adult population year round with adult turtles usually only present during the nesting season.
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
The hawksbill turtle has a pointed face with a distinct beak-like appearance. Its scutes overlap, and the edge of the carapace is serrated toward the rear of the body. Hawksbills weigh up to 85 kg (185 lbs). Bonaire has a juvenile and sub-adult population year round with most adult turtles present only during the nesting season.
Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
The loggerhead has a massive head that is broad and triangular in shape. The shell is often encrusted with barnacles. Its front flippers are relatively short compared to other species. Loggerheads weigh up to 200 kg (440 lbs). Loggerhead sightings on Bonaire are almost always of adults.
Detailed information on all of the wider Caribbean sea turtle species can be found at this dedicated webpage
Nesting and Hatching
The only time Bonaire’s sea turtles come ashore is when adult females emerge to lay their nests. Each year they arrive, sometimes from thousands of kilometers away. They return to the beaches where they were born decades before.
- Over a period of weeks the females and adult males congregate in the open water around Bonaire, engaging in courtship and mating. Beginning in April and continuing through December, females make repeated crawls onto beaches where they lay their nests. Each turtle will lay on average 3 to 6 clutches of eggs, depositing 100 to 180 eggs per nest, depending on species. Once a nest is laid, the female returns to the sea, leaving the eggs on their own, to hatch in about 60 days. The entire nest of eggs hatches at the same time and the baby turtles scramble together to the sea.
- These hatchlings face many predators on land and in the sea, such as ghost crabs, fish and birds.
Bonaire provides nesting habitat for three species of marine turtles: hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles. Hawksbills are responsible for the most activity and probably deposit more than 50 nests island-wide. Green turtles and loggerheads lay fewer nests, perhaps less than 20 for each species.
- Most turtle nests are laid on the beaches that lie along the northeast coast of Klein Bonaire, on and around “No Name” beach. The importance of this area for turtle nesting helped the effort to purchase the island from its private owners in 1999, spearheaded by the Foundation Preservation Klein Bonaire. Klein Bonaire now belongs to the people of Bonaire, and is a protected area.
Where to Find Them?
Sea turtles can be observed feeding and resting in all shallow water areas of Bonaire, but typical hot spots include Ebo’s Reef, Andrea II, and Karpata. Note that turtles need plenty of space: whether you are snorkeling or diving, stay far enough away that you do not disturb the activity of these endangered animals. The turtles will likely reward you for your consideration by allowing you to observe natural behaviors for extended periods.
Rare species sightings on Bonaire
Leatherbacks are occasionally seen in Bonaire’s waters. Usually they are sighted from boats in the deep waters offshore as the turtles pass in their quest to find their only food source – jellyfish. On occasion STCB is called to rescue leatherbacks that have become entangled in longlines used by the fishing industry. And every once in a while a leatherback comes ashore in an attempt to nest.
What Do Bonaire’s Sea Turtles Eat?
Very young sea turtles have a varied diet, which becomes increasingly specialized as they mature. Although you can occasionally see adult green turtles eating jellyfish, they are for the most part herbivores, grazing on sea grass and rooted algae. Hawksbills specialize in coral reef sponges. Loggerheads are carnivores, eating crabs, clams, snails, jelly-fish and other invertebrates.