yakushima turtles

Loggerhead TurtleYakushima is an important nesting site for both the endangered loggerhead and green turtles.  Both turtles visit Yakushima to nest on its beaches, so a visit to the island has plenty of opportunities for turtle-watching.  Yakushima is the main North Pacific nesting site for the loggerhead turtle (caretta caretta) with the major nesting site at  Nagata and lesser popular locations such as Isso, Kurio and Nakama.

The loggerhead population account for around 95% of the turtles, but some of the green turtles are known to inhabitat the sea around Yakushima all year.

The number of turtles coming to Yakushima fluctuates each year.  When there are large numbers visiting the island then on any given night about 50 turtles will be upon the beach at Nagata.  During a bad season then this figure could be as low as 5 a night. 

Loggerhead TurtleFemale turtles visit Yakushima between May and August, returning to the area where they were born approximately 25 – 30 years previously.  Over a period of a few months they come ashore several times to lay their eggs in clutches of between 100 – 120.  Young turtles hatch depending on the incubating sand temperature between 45 to 70 days later.  An individual turtle may nest between 2 – 5 year intervals and they do so between the ages of around 25 – 45 years.

Once the eggs are all incubated in the sand then the females return to the year-round warmer waters closer to the equator.  Once born, the young turtles are left to fend for themselves and unfortunately a great number of them will die before reaching adulthood.  The survival chance for a hatchling turtle is believed to be as low as 1 in 5,000 and this means that once a population has declined it takes decades for numbers to recover.

Young Green TurtlePrior to the late 1970’s, when Japan introduced legislation to protect sea turtles, the local people harvested turtle eggs as a valuable source of protein.  Now many locals volunteer to help keep the beaches clean and protect the eggs.  The largest nesting grounds at Nagata were given protected status under the Ramsar Wetland convention.

Turtle-watching eco tours are available over the summer months.  Please be sure to book in advance as there are a limited number of people allowed on the beach each night.  DO NOT attempt to go on the beach without a  trained guide as you are highly likely to disturb these sensitive creatures during their laying cycle.  If you don’t have time to book a guide, then stroll along any of the sandy beaches early in the morning and you are likely to see fresh turtle tracks winding across the sand.  The turtles lay their eggs above the high-tide line, so please avoid walking in this area over the summer months.  You CANNOT enter the beach at night between 1st May – 31st August.  You can only enter the beach with a guide.

YES also encourage visitors NOT to attempt to observe the young hatching turtles make their way to the sea.  This vital early stage of their lives is stressful and human presence upon the beach will increase their stress.  Their chances of survival are already low.

If you’d like to book a YES Turtle Tour then contact YES and we’ll be happy to help.