The turtle nesting season is officially under way across the Cayman Islands, with the Department of Environment and its dedicated group of volunteers reinstating its regular beach patrols in search of turtle tracks and nests.
Launched in 1998 as a way of both collecting data on and aiding the recovery of the sea turtle population across all three Cayman Islands, turtle nest monitoring takes place annually between May and November. Recorded nest numbers have increased significantly over the last 20 years from 30 in the first year to over 680 nests in 2017, producing an estimated 50,000 hatchlings.
Throughout the nesting season, turtles emerge from the sea and crawl onto Grand Cayman’s beaches to dig a nest and lay their eggs, a process which leaves distinctive turtle tracks known as batabano. When turtle tracks are sighted and reported, Department of Environment employees are able to check and determine whether a turtle has laid its eggs. If it has, DoE staff will log the GPS coordinates and work with property owners and local residents in the area to protect the incubating eggs and baby turtles, also called “hatchlings.”
When hatchlings emerge from their nest, they use the light of the moon to help navigate to the ocean. The Department of Environment therefore also works with the owners of hotels and other beach properties across the Cayman Islands to encourage the installation of turtle-friendly lighting that won’t confuse the hatchlings. These have already been installed at several properties, including Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.
Dart employees have participated in the turtle nest monitoring programme for the last three years. More than 40 employees volunteer to walk the beach between Tiki Beach and Avalon Condominiums three times a week in search of turtle nests and tracks.
Carmen Damaso-Doucette, who heads the turtle nest monitoring programme at Dart, noted that green sea turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles are all endangered species and represent a big part of Cayman Islands history and culture.
“From the flag, to the currency, to the coat of arms, they really serve as symbols of the Cayman Islands,” Damaso-Doucette said.
“The DoE relies on volunteers to assist in the monitoring process and it is something that our team at Dart is happy to be involved in year-on-year.”
The Department of Environment is requesting that the public report any sightings of possible turtle tracks or nests on the beach by calling the Turtle Hotline on 345-938-NEST.