Using a long, thin stick, Ovan Coombs carefully probes the sand and then begins digging with his hands. A dozen eggs the size of pingpong balls soon appear. He gently picks one up to show us the perfectly white shell.
A hawksbill sea turtle recently laid the eggs on the Jamaica Inn's white sand beach. Coombs' job, in addition to overseeing the resort's watersports program, is to locate and track the nests to ensure the eggs hatch and the baby turtles scramble safely into the sea.
The Jamaica Inn's conservation efforts are part of the Oracabessa Bay Turtle Project, started a dozen years ago to help increase the turtle population on Jamaica's northern coast near Ocho Rios. Turtles are vital to maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem, but the population was dwindling due to neglect. By training Jamaica residents such as Coombs as turtle advocates, the project has identified more than 100 nests and helped ensure the hatching of more than 16,000 turtles annually.
Staff as well as guests at the Jamaica Inn are passionate about the turtles, no one more so than Coombs. He updates the inn's turtle tote board daily on the location of new nests and hatching dates. He also narrates a weekly glass-bottomed boat tour on marine conservation. Interest in the sea turtles has led some guests to schedule visits to coincide with hatching season, usually September to November, and even to follow hatchings on the inn's Instagram page: @thejamaicainn.