23 September – A video circulating on social media in Cayman earlier this month appears to show an individual or individuals digging up a sea turtle nest and encouraging the hatchlings to crawl along the sand toward the sea in broad daylight.
Based on Department of Environment (DoE) observations, those in the video seem to have no ill intent and believe they are “rescuing” the baby turtles. However, nature is not always so amenable to such good intentions.
“By digging in turtle nests before they naturally hatch, baby turtles can be removed before they are ready to go to the ocean. It takes several days for their bodies to straighten and strengthen after coming out of their eggs and they may be released at times when they are less likely to survive,” said Dr. Janice Blumenthal, DoE marine research officer. “Releasing hatchlings in the daylight hours makes them much more visible, and therefore vulnerable, to predators on land, air and sea.”
This nest disturbance is the third such incident to occur this month, according to the DoE turtle team.
Hatchlings that reach the surface of the sand during the day will typically wait for the sand to cool, signaling the safety of the nighttime hours. Sometimes in daylight a few hatchlings are visible at the surface of the sand, but it is safer for those hatchlings and the 80 to 100 little turtles below them to wait until nightfall to emerge and continue their journey to the sea.
“I know that locals and visitors alike all feel a great affinity for our wild turtles. They are a national treasure, part of our important heritage, and a tourist attraction in their own right, for many years” said Councilor for the Environment MLA Eugene Ebanks. “But these turtles have been nesting in Cayman successfully from before people were here, and the best thing we can do for them is leave any nest, or nesting turtle, undisturbed.”
DoE scientists and licensed volunteers excavate turtle nests after hatching and, from time to time, they find a few live hatchlings inside the nests. However, it is important to note that nests are only dug up after the natural hatching has already occurred. Under no circumstances does the DoE encourage releasing baby turtles in daylight, because it gives them virtually no chance of survival.
“We want to continue encouraging members of the public to support sea turtle conservation, but do so in the right way,” said Environment Minister, the Hon. Dwayne Seymour. “We don’t want anyone to inadvertently put these animals at further risk.”
If a member of the public is concerned about a turtle nest, we ask that they call the DoE turtle hotline at 938-NEST (938-6378). Anyone seen interfering with a sea turtle nest, nesting turtle or turtle hatchlings should be reported by calling DoE Conservation Officers at 916-4271 or by calling 911.