Matapica Beach

Matapica Beach Suriname by Ariadne Van Zandbergen, www.africaimagelibrary.comMatapica Beach is the ideal spot for turtle viewing © Ariadne Van Zandbergen

Accessed via narrow channels through a dense mangrove swamp, this remote sandy beach is one of the best places in the world to see marine turtles nesting.

One of the region’s most important marine turtle-nesting sites, Matapica Beach is the name loosely applied to the 20km of wild uninhabited Atlantic coastline that stretches east from Braamspunt (on the combined estuary of the Suriname and Commewijne rivers) to the mouth of the smaller Matapica Creek. Unusually for Suriname, the coastline here is seasonally sandy, and while the water might be a little too rough and murky for it to qualify as a conventional beach resort, it does provide ideal conditions both for the turtles to lay their massive clutches of eggs, and also for visitors to witness this thrilling phenomenon. The most common species here, as in Galibi, is green turtle, but leatherbacks are also quite frequent. Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles also nest here, but very occasionally and sightings are rare. The main nesting season for green turtles runs from February to May, and for leatherbacks from April to July. Turtles are highly unlikely to be seen at other times.

Turtle watching is usually undertaken at night, but it is well worth strolling along the beach every hour or so in daylight. Leatherbacks often nest by day, and when tides are suitable, green turtles might also be out of the water towards dusk or in the early morning. The tell-tale sign of a nesting turtle is a fresh trail (like a giant one-wheeled truck), close to the water that has yet to be washed away. If you do locate a turtle while she is laying eggs, maintain a comfortable distance and try to stay out of her line of vision, so you don’t spook her before she has completed her task. Once the eggs have been laid, she will usually spend at least 30 minutes burying them before she returns to the sea, and this is when, with some sensitivity, it is possible to approach more closely, quietly and in small groups.

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