Visitors don’t just come for the endless expanse of unspoiled Atlantic coastline; they come hoping to see a prehistoric sea turtle crawl ashore and lay her eggs.
In spring and summer, the beach becomes a nesting ground for several species of endangered marine turtles © Marco Farouk-Basir, Wikimedia Commons
This 145km stretch of beach is the main reason people find themselves planning a trip to this region of Guyana, but visitors don’t just come for the endless expanse of unspoiled Atlantic coastline; they come hoping to see a prehistoric sea turtle crawl ashore and lay her eggs. Unfortunately, in 2017, the beach was closed to tourism following serious flooding and coastal erosion, and at the time of writing it was unclear when the situation would change. For up-to-date information, go to www.nre.gov.gy for the news from the Protected Areas Commission who look after Shell Beach.
From March through to August, Shell Beach becomes the nesting ground for four of the world’s eight endangered species of marine turtles: leatherback, green, hawksbill and olive ridley. All four species of sea turtles are protected in Guyana by the Protected Areas Act of 2011 and the Fisheries Act 2002. Most of the world’s sea turtle nesting sites are visited by only one or two species, adding to the exceptionality of Shell Beach.
Shell Beach stretches from the mouth of the Waini River, along Guyana’s northwestern sea coast to the Pomeroon River’s mouth, a distance of roughly 145km. It is a rare swathe of undeveloped tropical coastland that, for the most part, remained ecologically undamaged for centuries but now faces several serious threats including flooding, coastal erosion and human activity.
The entire area is broadly referred to as Shell Beach, but nine sections of beach have been given separate names, such as Almond, Kamwatta, Tiger and Gwennie. While largely unpopulated by permanent residents, nearly 150 inhabitants occupy Almond Beach, near the Waini River’s mouth; roughly 180 people reside at Gwennie Beach, near the Pomeroon River.
While the name Shell Beach may sound like a romanticised appellation, it’s actually utilitarian. Shell Beach is a beach composed entirely of seashells, from perfectly intact to crushed bits the size of sand.
(with thanks to Michelle Kalamandeen, formerly of the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society)