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Monday, July 4, 2022
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Leatherback Eggs Fail to Produce



Alas, the turtle nest at Lindbergh Bay, which has captured the imagination of many on and off island, has failed to bring forth the anticipated baby turtles.

Renata Platenberg, Department of Planning and Natural Resources wildlife biologist, is taking the development in stride.

"It is really disappointing," she said. "It’s not surprising because it’s late season. The female was young and had eggs to get rid of."

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Platenberg and others dug up the undeveloped eggs Saturday.

On July 14, guests at the Island Beachcomber Hotel bar were treated to the sight of a 600-pound leatherback lumbering up the beach at Lindbergh Bay, taking about two hours to lay her eggs. The spectacle made local and international news. National Geographic News Watch reported the event with a story titled "Leatherback Turtle Checks in to Virgin Islands Resort."

"The eggs are supposed to emerge before 60 days of development in warm temperatures," Platenberg said Monday. "When they didn’t come, I consulted Kemit Lewis, a turtle expert with Coastal Zone Management, and we made the decision to go and excavate the nest and see what we could find last Thursday."

No luck.

"We dug for hours and hours," Platenberg said, "but we were unable to locate the eggs. We went back Saturday with volunteers from Coral World, and finally found 64 undeveloped eggs. We dug about three and a half feet down. At any given time, there were probably three or four digging."

The find was revealing.

"The eggs probably were not fertilized," Platenberg said. "I talked to Carrie Stengle, a biologist at the National Park Service, and she said the description of the yolk showed no embryonic development at all."

On the other hand, the scientists learned something.

"It’s important to know there was a nest, and we wanted to know what happened so we can protect future nests," Platenberg said. "The eggs at the bottom of the nest were waterlogged."

There’s always next year.

"We have hope that the female has lots of years of breeding in front of her, and she will probably come back," Platenberg said. "We will look very carefully at relocating a nest to farther up the beach in the future."

There is another nest at Brewers Bay. Late on July 13, the night before the Lindbergh Bay nesting, a leatherback mom made her way up the quiet beach at Brewers Bay to lay her eggs. That nest has been fenced off and watched, also. Platenberg said that sometime this week she and the other volunteers will excavate that nest.

It’s unusual for leatherbacks to lay their eggs on St. Thomas, Platenberg said, particularly on south-facing beaches. Leatherbacks usually prefer broader beaches such as those found on St. Croix or Culebra, she said.

"In recent history there haven’t been any leatherbacks on southside beaches," she said.

The nests have been under nightly watches from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. by groups of volunteers who now can chalk up their time to a good cause, and several unusual evenings out.

"I was delighted they decided to come to St. Thomas to lay their eggs, and hopefully next year they’ll lay fertilized ones," Volunteer Becky Luscz said.

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Alas, the turtle nest at Lindbergh Bay, which has captured the imagination of many on and off island, has failed to bring forth the anticipated baby turtles.

Renata Platenberg, Department of Planning and Natural Resources wildlife biologist, is taking the development in stride.

"It is really disappointing," she said. "It's not surprising because it's late season. The female was young and had eggs to get rid of."

Platenberg and others dug up the undeveloped eggs Saturday.

On July 14, guests at the Island Beachcomber Hotel bar were treated to the sight of a 600-pound leatherback lumbering up the beach at Lindbergh Bay, taking about two hours to lay her eggs. The spectacle made local and international news. National Geographic News Watch reported the event with a story titled "Leatherback Turtle Checks in to Virgin Islands Resort."

"The eggs are supposed to emerge before 60 days of development in warm temperatures," Platenberg said Monday. "When they didn't come, I consulted Kemit Lewis, a turtle expert with Coastal Zone Management, and we made the decision to go and excavate the nest and see what we could find last Thursday."

No luck.

"We dug for hours and hours," Platenberg said, "but we were unable to locate the eggs. We went back Saturday with volunteers from Coral World, and finally found 64 undeveloped eggs. We dug about three and a half feet down. At any given time, there were probably three or four digging."

The find was revealing.

"The eggs probably were not fertilized," Platenberg said. "I talked to Carrie Stengle, a biologist at the National Park Service, and she said the description of the yolk showed no embryonic development at all."

On the other hand, the scientists learned something.

"It's important to know there was a nest, and we wanted to know what happened so we can protect future nests," Platenberg said. "The eggs at the bottom of the nest were waterlogged."

There's always next year.

"We have hope that the female has lots of years of breeding in front of her, and she will probably come back," Platenberg said. "We will look very carefully at relocating a nest to farther up the beach in the future."

There is another nest at Brewers Bay. Late on July 13, the night before the Lindbergh Bay nesting, a leatherback mom made her way up the quiet beach at Brewers Bay to lay her eggs. That nest has been fenced off and watched, also. Platenberg said that sometime this week she and the other volunteers will excavate that nest.

It's unusual for leatherbacks to lay their eggs on St. Thomas, Platenberg said, particularly on south-facing beaches. Leatherbacks usually prefer broader beaches such as those found on St. Croix or Culebra, she said.

"In recent history there haven't been any leatherbacks on southside beaches," she said.

The nests have been under nightly watches from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. by groups of volunteers who now can chalk up their time to a good cause, and several unusual evenings out.

"I was delighted they decided to come to St. Thomas to lay their eggs, and hopefully next year they'll lay fertilized ones," Volunteer Becky Luscz said.