Dominica's Sea Turtles
Lending a Helping Hand on an Island in the Caribbean

Text by Josephine Matyas

Photos by Josephine Matyas and Gary Crallé

It’s the kind of night that is inky and dark. I can barely see my hand in front of my face and I’m trying hard to keep up with Simon George, the turtle expert who’s leading me along a black volcanic sand beach on Dominica.

Simon’s flashlight bobs along the narrow pathway, winding through a forest of palm trees. The wind is starting to howl – there’s news of a tropical storm heading this way – and every once in a while raindrops let loose from the heavens and we scramble for shelter under the palms.

It’s dark and it’s wet and it’s exactly the kind of Caribbean nighttime magic one would expect on a remote beach on a remote island like Dominica. Dominca_aerial

One of the youngest islands of the West Indies, Dominica is a landscape of rainforest-draped mountains that sit side-by-side with deep, fertile valleys. Almost two-thirds of the island is pristine forest, untouched and genuinely unspoiled. This is the old Caribbean, where many things remain unsullied by mass tourism.

Every night from 8 pm to 5 am during nesting and hatching seasons, Simon can be found patrolling the beaches on Dominica around Rosalie Bay Resort, on the southeast corner of the island. On other parts of the island, volunteers with the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization replicate his efforts.

The organization is a grassroots venture that grew out of a small effort funded by the Rosalie Bay eco-property. In the beginning, a few volunteers protected sea turtle nesting sites along a stretch of black sand beach in front of the resort’s cottages. Eventually new communities joined the effort, and the protection program was embraced island-wide.

“We protect the turtles when they are nesting, we take care of the nesting habitat, and, if necessary, we relocate a nest if the eggs have been laid too close to the ocean,” Simon explains. “We also watch for signs of hatch activity – tracks in the sand or a depression in the sand after hatching.”

It doesn’t take long before Simon, a dark figure in the dark night, finds what we’ve been looking for: a slight dip in the sand – a sign that something has been disturbed underground. He lies down on the wet sand and starts to dig. When he reaches arms length in depth, he strikes gold – the remains of a recently hatched nest. He pulls out 79 successfully hatched eggs, several dozen undeveloped eggs the size of ping pong balls, and two stray, live hatchlings that were left behind in their siblings’ rush from the nest. 

“It takes a thousand eggs to produce one turtle that lives to adulthood. There are many challenges and many risks,” says Simon. “Once the female lays the eggs, it is the end of her parental responsibility. The hatchlings will be on their own.”

He pulls the tiny creatures from the deep hole in the sand and sets them on the black sand. But that’s all the head start Simon will allow. His philosophy is to provide protection when needed, but to let nature take its course whenever possible.

“It’s important for the hatchlings to crawl down the beach and to the water. That is part of the imprinting process. Even if they need help, we make sure they crawl along the sand to the ocean.”

Simon flicks off our only flashlight and the inky black darkness descends once more. We step back and hope for the best. Just like their natural parents, for the two tiny hatchlings, our responsibility has come to an end.


Getting to Dominica requires extra effort (i.e. no direct long-haul flights). American Airlines and LIAT connect to the island from Puerto Rico. Connections with regional carriers are available from neighboring islands including Antigua, Barbados, St. Maarten and St. Lucia.

Rosalie Bay Resort is a property dedicated to eco-wellness, sustainability, and to supporting the local community. There are spacious cottages and a nature-inspired spa fronting a stunning black sand beach lined by palm trees. The water is too rough for swimming, but perfect for long beach walks and turtle watching.

The season for leatherback sea turtles is March to July; for greens and hawksbills, from July through October. Guests at Rosalie Bay can sign up for a wake-up call should nesting or hatching activity be spotted. It’s part of the resort’s sea turtle conservation program, titled NET Rosalie, which provides turtle tours ($10US or $20US with an educational presentation).

Tourism information for Dominica can be found at:

Note: The author has also written about a similar conservation program on Barbados, the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, which operates a 24-hour hotline during nesting and hatching season.

Josephine Matyas is an Ontario-based freelance writer. She can be found online at  

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