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CARS, DOGS HARMING TURTLE EGGS

Nov. 14, 2003 – Motorists driving on V.I. National Park beaches are threatening sea-turtle nests, chief ranger Steve Clark said Friday. "The biggest situation is at Maho," Clark said, referring to the stretch of sandy beach that runs adjacent to the North Shore Road.
Easy access from the road makes it possible for vehicles to run up and down the narrow beach. Not only can the vehicles crush the nests, but the tire ruts make it difficult for the hatchlings to reach the sea.
Dogs are also doing a number on the nests. Clark said the dogs are a problem at all beaches, but Reef Bay and Lameshur are particularly vulnerable.
He said residents let their dogs roam while they're at work, and the animals stray into the park.
"When they get home, there's their dog waiting for them with turtle-egg shells all over its face," Clark said.
Clark said that people making fires on the beach are also a problem. They might be built on a nesting site, and the light from the fire may impact the hatchlings, reducing their chance for survival.
Clark said that rangers have stepped up patrols and will impound dogs caught on the beaches. Owners will then face fines.
"But we try to gain compliance through education," Clark said.
St. John sees mainly hawksbill turtle nests, but occasionally a leatherback will crawl up on the beach to lay its eggs. The eggs are white and the size of ping-pong balls. They hatchlings are uniformly reddish-brown and about the size of a silver dollar.
Both hawksbill and leatherback turtles are on the federal endangered-species list.
Sheri Caseau, a research management specialist at the park, said about 20 to 30 nests are found on St. John each year scattered along the north and south shores. She was reluctant to name specific beaches because she feared that poachers would take the eggs.
Caseau said that hawksbill turtles like beaches with lots of wave action, but leatherbacks prefer those that are calmer.
The peak of the nesting season comes from August through October, but turtles continue to lay eggs later in the year.
"There are still some out there now," she said.
She said the females make nests every two to three years and lay three to four times each season. They lay between 150 and 225 eggs in each nest.
"Between midnight and 4 a.m.," Caseau said. They make their nests within 10 miles of where they were born.
"They don't go to the nest where they were born," she said, debunking a commonly held myth.
The eggs hatch after about 60 days and the hatchlings make their way to the sea.
If you'd like to volunteer to monitor sea-turtle nests, call 693-8950, extension 226, for more information.

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