Sea turtles are among the most beloved marine animals in the world. Having wandered the oceans for over 100 million years, turtles still steal the hearts of many to this day. The hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle and the green turtle are honorary citizens of Barbados. In fact, the island’s hawksbill nesting population is the second largest in the wider Caribbean, and green turtles have become marketable attractions.
Turtles are adored for being friendly, photogenic and tame around people underwater. They calmly swim right by a boat or even visitors in the ocean and one cannot help but stare in admiration. Young children are sure to be forever mesmerised by an adventure to swim up close with the turtles, a sight they would never forget.
Turtles are more than majestic must-see creatures but are especially vital to Barbados’ biodiversity, and all efforts are first to protect them. Overfishing and overharvesting their products have left some of their species labelled endangered and others critically endangered. In 1998, it became illegal to harvest turtles in Barbados or possess their products, with penalties of fine and imprisonment.
A champion of the turtle cause is the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, directed by Professor Julia Horrocks, dedicated to conservation through public education and outreach. The project undertakes tracking turtles utilising patrol groups during nesting seasons and monitoring its 24-hour hotline if emergencies arise. Volunteers, both local and international, are welcome to lend a hand in the May-November period and learn more about all things turtle.
The hawksbill turtle gliding through the island’s waters is a rare sight in the Caribbean, outside of Barbados. Its shell of green, black and reddish-brown has been overharvested for centuries to make jewellery and ornaments. The turtle, named after its hawk-like beak, typically consumes sea sponge and can be found on the south and west coasts, nesting on the sandy shores from June 1 to October 31. Scuba divers may find the turtle among the coral reefs mainly Bright Ledge in Speightstown as well as Dottins and Johnson’s in Holetown.
The largest of the species, the leatherback turtle, can be identified by its black leathery shell with white spots and subtle pink dots on its head. Weighing between 550 and 2000 pounds, leatherback turtles nest on the east coasts from March 1st to July 31st, which is the best time to see them!
The west coast will introduce you to the juvenile green turtle commonly found on swimming tours along the Great Ledge barrier reef and the Stavronikita wreck. The Barbados Sea Turtle Project, in collaboration with local organisations such as the Coastal Zone Management Unit, check up on them every six months at the established turtle swimming sites.
Top Places to spot Sea Turtles
The top places to spot sea turtles include Carlisle Bay, Holetown, Dover Beach & Drill Hall.
Praised as one of Barbados’ most beautiful beaches, the clear waters of Carlisle Bay are ideal for scuba divers and snorkelers in search of a day with marine life. Strong swimmers familiar with snorkelling can follow the buoys in the water, and explore the reefs. It is safer to snorkel when few boats are around and touching or feeding the turtles is not advised. Many tour options to meet the turtles are also available, providing equipment for safe swimming and interaction. These tour operators include:
Barbados Blue Watersports: The 5-star resort rated (by Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is a dive shop offering scuba diving, snorkelling, free diving and nitrox diving. Whether you’re new to the activity or an expert, instructors facilitate deep dives to reveal turtles swimming in their natural habitats.
Tranquillity Cruises: The turtle and shipwreck branded cruise located at the popular Copacabana Beach Club takes you to hang out with the green turtles. A range of packages is offered, all of which include a free welcome drink as you set sail.
Cool Runnings Barbados: The personalised excursion of this catamaran provides snorkelling and swimming opportunities with the green turtles. Choose between the lunchtime or sunset packages, the turtles await.
Therapy Charters: The mom’s therapy boat specified for turtle tours sails off from the Bridgetown dock. Private, shared and personalised tours are offered to couples, families and friends to interact with the sea turtles.
Clear Kayaks Barbados: A tour of waters in a glass-bottom kayak provides the perfect view of green turtles and hawksbill turtles swimming by.
Alleyne’s Beach along the West Coast is known for turtle encounters near to the shores. Strong swimmers can further explore the peaceful waters with snorkelling gear and waterproof cameras to capture the turtles. They can also be found by swimming at Payne’s Bay, but the distance is further than Alleyne’s beach. Several Cruises also typically stop at Payne's Bay to allow guests to swim and snorkel. These cruises include :
Good Times Catamaran Cruise: Privacy, adventure and sport are among the promises of this luxury catamaran with sea turtles and fish floating by. After a swim, the upper deck of the boat provides a beautiful view of the island.
Bolador Tours: The fastest sailing catamaran on the island offers a highly sought after 5- hour cruise featuring swimming with the turtles and lunch along the golden west coast.
Barbados Snorkeling Tours: The hawksbill and green turtles can often be found on the first stop of this two-hour tour across the clear Holetown beach waters. Photos with the turtles taken by the crew can be requested through the website.
The hawksbill turtle, nesting along the southern coast of the island, can be found roaming the waters of Dover beach.
Cliff Sharker: A small intimate experience with the turtles along the southern beaches is memorialised with breathtaking photos taken by the crew. The boat is stationed at Dover beach, but Oistins, Worthing and Accra beaches are all showcased along the tour.
A popular nesting spot for turtles is Drill Hall beach along the south coast. The sight of hatchlings emerging from the sand is heartwarming as they quickly waddle towards the water. Onlookers should allow the hatchlings to find their way to the ocean, and telephone the hotline if any issues arise.
Turtles are everywhere around the beautiful coasts of Barbados with many affordable opportunities to take a swim. The one of a kind turtle encounter will create memories to last a lifetime.
Barbados Blue Watersports
Hilton Hotel, Needham's Point, St Michael
Copacabana, Bay St, Bridgetown
Tel: (246) 231-2932
Carlisle House, Carlisle Wharf
Hincks Street, Bridgetown
Barbados, West Indies
#34 House of Pillars, Cavans Lane Bridgetown Barbados
Clear Kayaks Barbados
Carlisle Bay, St. Michael, Barbados
Tel: +1 246 238 8470
Good Times Catamaran
Ken Watersports, Inc.
1st Avenue Lower Carlton, St James
(246) 422 1900, (246) 422 1900
BTI Carpark Cavans Lane, Bridgetown
Barbados Snorkeling Tours
Holetown St. James
Barbados (246) 259-6906
US (315) 636-4560