In addition to Oiapoque, leather turtles attract scientists and tourists

In addition to Oiapoque, on the beaches of Cayenne, Remire-Montjoly or the nature reserve of Amana, giant shadows come out of the ocean waves and climb onto the sand.

From April until August, leatherback turtles struggle to find the best place to lay their eggs. With its hind fins, it digs the sand until the hole is just the right depth. An intense effort then begins, in the rhythm of strong breathing, to expel and then bury a hundred eggs. Exhausted, the half-ton turtle will then circle its nest three times before dragging it into the ocean waters.

Leatherback turtle laying on Awala-Yalimapo beach
Leatherback turtle laying on Awala-Yalimapo beach

French part of the Amazon, Guyana is considered one of the most important homes of three very emblematic but very endangered sea turtles: the olive turtle, the green turtle (or arowana) and the leatherback turtle. Also called luth turtle, the latter is a giant of the sea, the biggest reptile after crocodiles, the male can measure up to eight feet and weigh more than 900 kilos. Able to travel thousands of kilometers at sea to feed on jellyfish and jellyfish, they have spawning points both in the Pacific (Australia, Malaysia and Costa Rica) and in the Atlantic (Florida, Africa, the Caribbean and even on the banks of Foz do Rio Doce in EspĂ­rito Santo).

The rush to the sea after the hatch is another exciting time.
The rush to the sea after the hatch is another exciting time.

The French Guiana coast is however the privileged place where females return to nest, with up to 18,000 spawns in 2018, mainly in the five kilometers of Awala-Yalimapo beach, near the mouth of the Maroni River and the border with Surinam. Since the seventies, the importance of these sites has led scientists to draw attention to the need for a policy of preservation against the strong threats of extinction that weigh on Guyana’s sea turtles, whether due to the retreat of the coast, uncontrolled hunting, and by the disturbances animals or humans during the crucial moments of spawning and hatching of eggs.

The spawning leather turtles now attract hundreds of tourists, with a major impact on the region’s economy and jobs. Faced with ecological risks, the Guyana Sea Turtle Network coordinates the forty main actors in the sector, working either in scientific conservation projects or in accompanying tourists. At the Amana Nature Reserve, the reserve guards organize group visits, teaching them good behaviors to live this exceptional experience without disturbing the animals. Volunteers from the Kwata association also organize animations and awareness-raising conferences for younger people during the season.