Saving Sea Turtles in Dominica
I've long wanted to go to the Caribbean island of Dominica. It seems like the perfect blend of culture, scenery, beaches, friendly people...and sea turtles! I've recently discovered the work of an amazing woman, Bev Deikel, who, along with her partner Patris Oscar, run Rosalie Bay Resort - and save turtles. They founded the very first sea turtle conservation program in Dominica, and are working hard on other conservation projects on the island.
Bev and Oscar, Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
I wanted to learn more about Bev moving to Dominica from Minnesota (quite the weather and cultural change!), the sea turtle conservation program, and more. Here's what she had to say...
Please tell us about your Sea Turtle Conservation Program...
Every night during sea turtle season, which is March through October annually, there are one or two patrollers out on the beaches watching and protecting the turtles. When they are laying the eggs, the adult female turtles go into a trance. During that time, the patroller will measure the turtle and check for a tag. If they are not tagged, they will tag the turtle for ongoing research.
We’ve found that most turtles return to nest on the same beach they were born, and will nest each time at that same beach. However, since Dominica's beaches are small and scattered, the turtle will go where the current takes her. Occasionally we see tags from other places. The furthest I remember was Venezuela. Our turtle researchers and patrollers also actively go into the schools to teach about the endangerment of the turtles.
Guests and locals are invited to participate in the sea turtle conservation efforts by helping patrol the beach to protect nesting turtles, aid researchers in collecting data or relocating nests that are too close to the ocean to the turtle hatchery, or being “on call” for when baby sea turtles emerge and make their way out to sea. We also regularly organize beach clean-up days to keep the shore in good condition for the turtles. Just last week, there was an overnight trip with 50 children and 50 adults on our beach to watch the turtle nesting.
We have three species of turtles that nest at Rosalie Bay – the leatherback, green, and hawksbill. Witnessing a 700-pound sea turtle crawl ashore and dig a nest, or a baby hatchling smaller than a baby’s footprint are truly amazing sights. I never get tired of seeing it and love sharing it with others.
Green Turtle Hatchling. Photo credit: Marine Creatures
What inspired you to start this program?
After we purchased the property, now Rosalie Bay Resort, more than 10 years ago, we found out there were turtles nesting. I was very excited. But shortly after, we discovered that poachers were sleeping on the beach and taking every turtle and every egg. There were no protection efforts on island at that time, and I knew we had to do something to protect these endangered creatures. I reached out to WIDECAST (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network) to help us establish a conservation program. It began at Rosalie Bay, protecting the turtles and educating the local community – adults and children, and we’re so proud that it’s become island wide.
It’s been a great success. In 2003, when it began and the first year records were kept, there were only seven leatherback turtle nests at Rosalie Bay. It is now more than 69 nests.
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
What has been the local response to this conservation program? How did local attitudes change, re: turtles as food, and sustainability of the sea turtle population (and other food sources)?
The response has been mostly outstanding. WIDECAST sent a Marine Biologist from Ireland, Rowan Byrne, to be our Field Director. He lived in the community, and invited all to come out to see and learn about the turtles. A lot of what we did was educating both children and adults, and being involved with the communities (such as sponsoring local cricket teams).
There were not that many that first year, but those that were there were excited to see turtles come on shore. I heard so many tell me that after seeing a live turtle they would never eat turtle meat again. A very good thing that happened was that other communities decided to start their own projects to protect the turtles.
What has been the role of Widecast in your turtle conservation efforts?
WIDECAST helped organized the whole project. They brought in outside project managers for the first five years to establish the program and research collection. Now we’re trying to be completely local.
What other conservation projects in Dominica are you involved in?
Every year we do something special for Earth Day. This year, we donated more than 3,000 native trees and shrubs and planted them along the local road for the Million Hour Tree Planting Project on Dominica. It was a great time. The children also had a turtle talk with our turtle expert Simon and assisted him in cleaning the beach.
I also work with Bernard Whilshire, our local conservationist and his organization WEF. He was most instrumental in getting the Waitukubli National Trail across Dominica going. Now he’s working on a couple of new interesting projects.
We also try to be good environmental and community partners, and have been certified by Green Globe. Rosalie Bay Resort was created to not only share the beauty of Dominica with visitors, but to also empower the local residents and protect the environment. Almost all, 97%, of our staff members are local from nearby villages – many of which were impacted by the decline in the banana trade industry.
In addition to using wind and solar energy (we have the largest wind turbine on the island and more than 206 solar panels), we created the resort by hand conserving native plants, using local skilled workers, and building with locally-sourced and sustainable materials. We try to be local and sustainable in everything we do. Artwork around the resort is from local artists, and the food we serve is sourced from local farmers, local fishermen, and our organic garden.
What's up next for you?
It’s an ongoing effort to try to make Rosalie Bay Resort successful for both me and my partner and the local community.
Interested in learning more? This inspiring video from EX-PATS is an excellent introduction to Bev and the sea turtle conservation program...
And lastly, here's an interesting radio interview with Bev about her work.
All photos courtesy and copyright Rosalie Bay Resort, except where noted