The oceans harbor seven species of sea turtles,
and all of them are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Virgin
Islands, including St. Croix, provide critical habitat for several of
these endangered and threatened species. While the central part of St.
Croix has significant beachfront and residential development, important
nesting grounds for leatherbacks, hawksbills, and green sea turtles are
still found on beaches in Jack, Isaac, and East End Bays, pictured in
this astronaut photograph from March 29, 2005. Additional nesting
grounds are found on Buck Island. The reefs surrounding the islands also provide a sheltered foraging ground for juvenile turtles.
Female sea turtles return to the same beaches where they were
hatched to lay their eggs. They prefer sandy beaches with easy access
to deep water. This photo shows why the turtles would choose the
southeastern beaches: the barrier reef is diminished in the area
compared to the north side of the island, and the water is deeper
(darker blue). The females scoop a nest out of the sand, lay their
eggs, and cover them. When the hatchlings emerge from their eggs,
moonlight glinting off the sea guides them to the water.
White dots scattered across most of the island reveal the extent of
development. Residential and tourist development consumes turtle
nesting beaches. The presence of people, especially at night, can cause
females to abort nesting attempts or to abandon eggs. Artificial lights
can disorient the hatchlings as they emerge form their nests. Prior to
a nighttime beach patrol and monitoring program operated by the Nature Conservancy,
poaching of turtle eggs was also a problem on East End beaches.
Astronaut photograph ISS010-E-21797
was acquired March 29, 2005, using a Kodak DCS760C Electronic Still
Camera with an 800 mm lens. The image is provided by the ISS Crew Earth
Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
Johnson Space Center. The image in this article has been cropped and
enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program
supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that
will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make
those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken
by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey.