Turtle watching on Sao Tome and Principe
When to go: turtle nesting and hatching season is between November and April.
Species you might see: green, olive ridley, hawksbill (critically endangered) and leatherback (critically endangered) turtles nest on the island, and loggerhead turtles have been seen mating in the waters around Sao Tome, but not nesting.
Excursion time: Emma was staying at Roca Belo Monte on Principe where the 2-3 hour turtle watching trips depart at around 8pm, after a delicious dinner!
It’s a 15-30-minute drive through the forest to the nearest turtle beach, and I visited the section of Praia Grande that was being patrolled by turtle wardens that night. The turtle warden prevents the turtle eggs being stolen for food, collects information about the turtles for conservation purposes and takes visitors to see the nests.
I saw the turtle tracks as I walked up the beach and was surprised to see how far up the beach they travel – sometimes right into the fringe of palm trees.
The turtles are easily disturbed when they are digging their nest so I was taken to see a turtle who had already dug her hole and started to lay her eggs; at this point the turtles go into a trance like state and are tolerant of quiet observers. While the turtle was laying her eggs, the guard marked her front flipper with a band, recorded her length and width and marked the nesting site so that it could be protected from dogs, crabs and people.
At beaches where the nests cannot be protected, the eggs are dug up and taken to a special site where they are buried at the same depth. The nests are then monitored closely and, when they’ve hatched, the turtles are taken that night to the exact place on the beach where their original nest was so they can make their journey to the sea.
After laying her 80-130 eggs, the turtle covered her nest by scooping sand over the eggs with her hind flippers. She made a distinct sighing noise while doing this. Covering the eggs and camouflaging the nest can take around an hour and when she’s sure the nest is safe, she returns to the sea. She navigates by light so all artificial light at the beach must be kept to a minimum and you’ll be given red plastic to cover your torch.
The turtles will hatch after 45-80 days incubation (varies with species) and, after running the gauntlet of the beach, they are able to swim immediately.
What to take: Wear closed shoes as the beach is full of quite sizeable crabs! Take something to sit on and a small torch/phone; Roca Belo Monte will put red plastic over the light so as not to disturb the turtles but it’s best to keep torch use to a minimum. Camera flashes disturb turtles so just enjoy the experience and make memories not photos. It’s a good idea to pop a plastic bag into your pocket so that you can pick up any rubbish that’s been washed onto the beach while you’re there.
São Tomé and Príncipe Holidays Specialists
At Archipelago Choice, our small friendly team of island holiday specialists has been organising tailor-made holidays to the Azores since 1998 and more recently to São Tomé and Príncipe, Madeira and Cape Verde. Over this time we have developed the most comprehensive, flexible and fairly priced holidays to these beautiful islands.
All the holidays we organise are put together with great care using our extensive knowledge of the islands and our experience of travelling around them. We try very hard to give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and island hopping so we put together holidays that best suit our clients.
Contact us now and one of our São Tomé and Príncipe holiday specialists will put together an amazing experience for you.