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Swimming with Turtles in Barbados

Things to do in Barbados

Barbados is not only home to pristine beaches and delicious rum cocktails, but also a rich underwater ecosystem teeming with amazing diving experiences. People flock from around the world to this alluring Caribbean island to see the amazing sights for themselves.

One of the island’s inhabitants that have garnered the most attention from tourists is the endlessly charismatic sea turtle.

Barbados Sea Turtles

Barbados is home to a rich and diverse population of sea turtles. Hawksbill, loggerheads, leatherback and green sea turtles all visit the island each year between the months of May and October to nest and feed.

500 female hawksbill turtles nest across Barbados’s sandy white beaches each year, a nesting population that is recognised as the second-largest in the Caribbean. During this time visitors are highly likely to see at least one nesting hawksbill turtle on the west and south coasts. Eco-friendly guides and tours are available to tourists, so you can catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most fascinating events without causing any harm. 

Regarded as the largest of all living turtles, the leatherback turtle joins the hawksbill in using the island as its stomping ground, nesting and feeding across and around its sandy shores. As the name suggests, these captivating turtles do not have a bony shell, but instead a soft leather-like one.

There is ample opportunity to swim with juvenile green turtles in Barbados, as they are found feeding on seagrass and algae around the island. The island's west coast is where you’ll find the majority of them, due to the calmness of the coastal waters. Dedicated “Swim with the Turtles” sites cater to travellers in search of joining these charming creatures in their natural habitat.

Both on the beach and at sea, you won’t find anywhere else on earth to get such an up close and personal encounter with this extraordinary species.

Marine Life

On top of swimming with turtles in Barbados, you also have a large selection of captivating marine life to explore.

Filled with stunning underwater vistas, the country is highly dependent on preserving its beautiful coral reefs and local fishing industry. Both of these bring a lot of food, tourism and employment to the island, allowing it to thrive.

The waters surrounding Barbados are home to lionfish, eels, crayfish, barracudas and sea urchins, to name a few. Another more sought after inhabitant is the striped dolphin, a playful and marvellous aquatic mammal that features stunning stripes across its entire body. There are many other beautiful dolphins in the Atlantic surrounding Barbados, but none as famous as these stripy celebrities.

Barbados is known as the ‘land of the flying fish’, and if you find yourself on a dive or on a boat, you might just see this unique species swimming or flying right past you. These puzzling species are able to glide through the air, for up to 40 metres, bursting through the surface at speeds close to 55 km per hour. When in the air they spread their fins wide, giving them the appearance of flight, allowing them to evade predators.

Snorkelling, Diving and “Swim with the Turtles” Sites

With so much to see, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of diving opportunities around the island. The previously mentioned “Swim with the Turtles” sites are some of the best activities Barbados has to offer. A visitor on a catamaran cruise will likely see several green turtles at these locations, and due to their friendly nature, you are welcome to swim freely with them.

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project monitors these activities to minimize any potential negative impacts tourist interactions might have on the turtles. Their efforts have had such a positive effect that In 2007, the ‘Swim with the Turtles’ sites were listed in Islands magazine's Blue List as one of the top 100 sustainable tourism activities in the world. 

Most turtle tours are on catamarans, which provide you with snorkels, flotation vests, fins, and additional flotation devices. Some may offer food and drinks, but it’s better to ask ahead. Personal snorkelling gear is, of course, allowed and it should be noted that contact lenses can be used with masks, but glasses can’t. 

Some tours include stops at the beach and snorkelling over shipwrecks. Folkestone Marine Park, for example, is a government-run site that houses a number of water-related activities.

Barbados is technically not in the Caribbean Sea but is in fact part of the North Atlantic Ocean. This means that most coasts, bar the southwest, are filled with salt water, which is famed for its buoyancy, allowing you to float on the surface with ease, for an untaxing snorkel experience. 

Some diving outfits provide free daily lessons for inexperienced divers (and kids) to gain some confidence before setting off to meet the turtles and surrounding marine wildlife.

Scuba diving visitors can be assured of seeing at least one hawksbill on the offshore reef during most dives all year round, and a visitor on a catamaran cruise is guaranteed to see several green turtles at the “Swim with the Turtles” sites.

More experienced divers should be happy to hear that free divers also operate across the island. Most are happy to share tips and tricks, with some offering their own sets of challenges for you to try and conquer. From holding your breath the longest to how deep you can dive without any equipment, these are trials are not meant for the faint-hearted.

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