244 hawksbill turtle hatchlings released
WHITEHOUSE, Westmoreland — It was nothing short of awe-inspiring for the guests and team members of Sandals Whitehouse who witnessed the historical release of 244 hawksbill turtle hatchlings into the sea in mid-October.
The hawksbill is a critically endangered species which is hunted for its shell, the primary source of ornamental tortoise shell.
"It was my first time seeing turtles being released and it was an interesting and rewarding experience for me," said executive administrative assistant Sherine Foster.
"Everyone who witnessed the hatchlings making their way into the open sea were visibly touched at how beautiful they looked. I am proud to know that I work for a company whose mandate is to protect and preserve the environment," she continued.
For Soon Come Back loyalty agent Jamille Harris, who is involved in the hotel's turtle monitoring programme, the experience was emotionally charged.
"When I witnessed the baby turtles being released I was overjoyed and on the verge of tears just to know that we have managed to play a part in protecting such wonderful creatures that are sadly endangered," she told the Jamaica Observer.
The hotel, located on Jamaica's south coast, first recorded turtle nesting activities in 2011 when turtle tracks were spotted. The staff then started a turtle monitoring initiative, led by the Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Department and with the assistance of fisherfolk trained in sea turtle conservation from Bluefield's Bay Fishermen Friendly Society (BBFFS).
Those initial efforts, however, were unsuccessful as the turtle nests were lost to bad weather and predators.
The team subsequently ramped up its efforts and spent nights in the mangroves, patrolled the beach looking for signs of nesting, adjusted lighting on the beach and conducted clean-ups that extended beyond the resort's parameters, removing debris that may hinder nesting.
"We managed to remove plastics and other non-biodegradable material that the turtles would ingest. This would cause them to die of starvation as they would not be able to digest these items and would think that they are always full," said a proud Vilma Smith, EHS manager.
With the sea turtle season starting in May this year, the team awaited signs of turtles making their way onto the Sandals Whitehouse beach. They got those signs in July and September at which time they discovered 29 nests. Some of them were relocated to safer sections of the beach, while six were destroyed by predators. Apart from the 244 baby turtles which were safely released into the sea, four nests remain with a total of 485 eggs that are being closely monitored.
The hotel's turtle preservation programme is largely supported by the Sandals Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International, which recently donated $350,000 to the BBFFS Turtle Nesting Site Monitoring Programme.
The conservation of the endangered species forms part of the hotel chain's mandate to ensure environmental sustainability both on its properties and in the communities where it operates. The eight-year-old property recently retained its gold certification from EarthCheck, the world's leading provider of environmental management, benchmarking and certification systems for the travel and tourism industry.