Overview

JBHP Location

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Antigua (17° N, 61° W) is a small island (281 km2) located in the Leeward Islands of the eastern Caribbean. This island, with its sister islands of Barbuda and Redonda, comprise the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth.

Long Island, better known as Jumby Bay, is a 300-acre private island located off Antigua’s northeastern coast and home to a small resort and several private residences. The island’s isolation from the mainland has created a haven for nesting hawksbills – and an excellent opportunity to study them.  Pasture Beach has served as the primary study site for the JBHP since the project’s inception. The crescent shaped beach, roughly 450 meters in length, is comprised of calcareous sand and backed by private residences and remnant maritime forest. A number of smaller, man-made pocket beaches lie adjacent to Pasture Beach and also attract some hawksbill activity during the nesting season.

From June 1 to November 16 each year, the JBHP intensively monitors hawksbill nesting activities on Pasture Beach and adjoining pocket beaches.  (The historical start of the research season was on June 15, but an apparent shift in the peak of the nesting season compelled us to push forward the start date by two weeks in 2007.) Project staff patrol the beaches hourly, on foot, from shortly after sunset to shortly before sunrise, collecting data on hawksbill reproductive ecology. This nocturnal schedule can be exhausting, but it’s necessary since hawksbills nest exclusively at night. Because hawksbill nesting typically requires an hour and a half to complete, our hourly patrols allow us to encounter and identify nearly all turtles during some stage of the nesting process.

Ever wonder what it’s like to spend nearly six months a year patrolling for sea turtles on an isolated Caribbean beach?  Keep tabs on the field team with our beach blog!

Sea turtles are vulnerable while on land and can be easily disturbed. However, after a female has selected a nesting site and excavated the egg chamber, she begins to lay her eggs and enters a “nesting trance”. This period allows the turtle team to gather necessary data while minimizing disturbance.   Each individual is marked with unique flipper tags (or identified by existing tags) and provided a distinctive notch in the carapace above the tail. Data about the turtle’s size, condition, and nesting habitat are also recorded. These consistent, replicate surveys allow us to monitor the reproductive output, population status and demographics, and long-term trends of Jumby Bay’s hawksbill colony.

After a decade of relative stability in Jumby Bay’s annual nesting cohort, the JBHP has documented a significant increase in the nesting population since the late 1990s. This is fantastic news for a critically endangered species! During the early 2000s, this increase appeared largely driven by an increase in neophytes, or first-time nesters.  Because Jumby Bay turtles are provided with multiple marks, show high fidelity to the island, and are intensively monitored, any unmarked turtles are considered first time nesters at JB and thus new recruits to the population. More recently, however, greater numbers of remigrants, or returning nesters (those hawksbills previously tagged), appear to be fueling the population growth. Not surprisingly, this population increase has been accompanied by an increase in the total crawls and nests recorded on the beach.

JBHP Nesting Cohorts 1987 - 2014

Monitoring the nesting hawksbills at Jumby Bay is a big part of our job, but it’s also very important to understand nest hatch success. Following the emergence of hatchlings – the incubation period is roughly two months long – staff exhume nest contents to categorize hatched egg shells and unhatched eggs. We are able to quantify success and evaluate what factors may have impacted hatch and emergence success, such as root entanglement, ants, and high tides. At Jumby Bay, our hatch success is around 80%, though tropical storms and other phenomena can greatly impact this rate.

JBHP research was featured in a recent article in the LIAT airlines magazine.