Since 2016, Dart employees have volunteered to assist the Cayman Islands Department of Environment with its Marine Turtle Beach Monitoring Programme, an initiative that records the number and location of turtle nest sites along beaches on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
The programme, which was launched 20 years ago, requires Department of Environment staff along with more than 100 volunteers to walk assigned sections of beach every morning during turtle-nesting season between the beginning of May and the end of October. The recognised season is the peak period when female turtles emerge from the sea to lay eggs in holes that they dig on the beach with their flippers.
This year, I volunteered to walk Dart’s assigned section of Seven Mile Beach between The Avalon condominiums and the site of the restaurant/bar previously known as Tiki Beach on the last Saturday of the final four months of turtle-nesting season.
The task isn’t difficult; we’re simply asked to walk the beach looking for fresh turtle tracks or the telltale pits and mounds of sand created when a turtle lays her eggs and then notify the Department of Environment whether or not we find a nest. The hardest part of the mission is getting up early enough to start the walk at 6 a.m. In my case, doing that on a Saturday morning requires some sacrifice of sleep and getting out the door much earlier on what is typically a lazy morning for me.
Soon after starting my first walk, I realised that it had been forever since I was last on Seven Mile Beach that early in the morning. It was literally forever, because I had
never walked on the beach that early before.
Sunrise was exactly at 6 a.m. on the last Saturday of July and upon arriving at the beach, I was immediately struck by the exquisite stillness of scene. What sounds there were — land crabs rustling through dried seagrape leaves in the bush just north of The Avalon and small waves gently lapping at the shoreline — seemed crisply magnified in the stillness of the moment.
Soft light soon cast a warm yellow glow on the boats anchored offshore as the sun moved above the treeline. Despite the lack of breeze and it being summer, it was still cool, relatively speaking for the Cayman Islands, at that time of morning. The scene was, in a word, sublime.
“This is what all the fuss is about,” I thought to myself. “This is why people want to move to the Cayman Islands. Heck, this is why I first moved to the Cayman Islands, way back in 1982.”
However, sometime during my many years here I have became desensitised to the beauty of these islands, especially along the shoreline. Sure, my bothersome run-ins with skin cancer have played a part in my staying away from the beach, but it’s more a case of my taking for granted something that only a small percentage of the world’s population ever see. I’ve been up walking for exercise at the crack of dawn many times, but I’ve always been in the gym on a treadmill or pounding the pavement somewhere in South Sound near where I live. Don’t get me wrong; walking along South Sound Road early in the morning is usually quite pretty, but it doesn’t compare to the scenery of Seven Mile Beach at dawn.
Within 15 minutes of starting my turtle nest monitoring walk, people began arriving at the beach. There were runners, walkers, swimmers, a group at volleyball practice at Public Beach, and a couple, sitting with cups of coffee in their hands, simply drinking in the scene.
These folks get it, I thought. They saw the scene I was experiencing for the gift that it is and were taking advantage of it. I, on the other hand, have lived in the Cayman Islands for more than 9,000 sunrises and this was the first time I experienced one of them while walking along Seven Mile Beach. There is something terribly wrong with that ratio.
But there’s time to rectify that. Aug. 25, Sept. 29 and Oct. 27 are all marked on my desk calendar with the word, “turtles.” Those dates, the last Saturdays of their respective months, are days when I will walk that stretch of beach looking for signs of turtle nesting again.
If it takes an excuse for me to get up early and visit Seven Mile Beach for a walk at dawn, that’s fine with me; it’s a good community cause and, perhaps even more importantly, it’s a soul-enriching experience. I may not have discovered any fresh turtle nests on the last Saturday of July, but I instead found something even more personally satisfying.