Wildlife

Animal Spotlight: Sea Urchins

 

These cute little creatures are abundant on some of the beaches in Grand Turk. We all know you should look with your eyes and not your hands and urchins make that even more clear- they have a body made up of barbed and sometimes poisonous spines. Yikes! 

These little sea hedgehogs feed primarily on algae and have to watch out for starfish, otters, eels, and triggerfish lest they become lunch. Sea urchins move along slowly using their five tube feet. Urchins belong to the same family as sand dollars, sea cucumbers and sea stars which all boast five-fold symmetry.

There are separate male and female species but it is incredibly difficult to tell them apart. Males tend to hang out on higher, more open ground and females prefer to hunker down in crevices and on the sea floor.

If an urchin has intact spines it is nearly impervious to most predators but when the spines are damaged they become a slow-moving feast for many fish and crustaceans. They do not have any eyes but or central nervous system but can sense touch light and chemicals with either their eye spots or the entire body. Their mouths are located on the bottom and their anus on the top.

The urchins in Grand Turk have mostly black spines so they are fairly easy to spot through the clear water against the white sand. So watch your step and enjoy watching them with your snorkel mask on.

Animal Spotlight: Sea Turtles

When scuba diving around Grand Turk it is not unusual to spot turtles Hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles can all be found nesting, feeding and living around the islands.

Turtles in History

Traditionally, sea turtles provided an important source of meat for native islanders. With the tourist population soaring and the conservation concerns surrounding the turtle population, this has ceased to be an issue. Turtles are protected in TCI and seen as an important draw for tourists.

Life Cycle

Turtles come to shore to nest, returning to the places that they were born to bury dozens of eggs before returning to the sea. The baby turtles hatch 6-10 weeks later and must dig themselves out which may take a few days. At which point (preferably at night) they make a mad dash to the sea trying to avoid any predators on their way. They instinctively swim against the current non-stop for up to 24 hours.

The turtles rarely lay on the more populated islands in TCI and much prefer the isolation and anonymity of the tiny surrounding islands. Juvenile turtles travel back to the shallows of TCI reefs to feed on coral and seagrass beds. They move on to greater pastures when they are large enough and return only to lay eggs. The adult breeding grounds can be located thousands of miles from the nesting area so adults do not necessarily migrate every year.

Turtles Today

Turtles are on the endangered species list. They suffer directly from human consumption. Turtles at sea become tangled in old fishing nets, plastic can connectors and have been found with garbage in their stomachs. Turtles eat jellyfish and sometimes mistake plastic bags for a tasty treat. They also have been found with plastic straws logged in their noses. This causes massive discomfort, infection and potentially death. You can help by saying no to plastic bags- bring your reusables! They come small enough to fit in your purse or pocket and you never know when you will need it. Also, say no to plastic straws. If you are a straw person, carry your own glass or metal one, if you aren't- enjoy your drinks right from the glass.

Sea turtles are a magical site while scuba diving on the wall. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to see one on your trip. And we can all do our part to protect them for future generations to come.