26 February – The Department of Environment (DoE), in partnership with the National Roads Authority (NRA) and Caribbean Utilities Company, Ltd. (CUC), is pleased to announce that the Cayman Islands is taking its first steps to make our public roads more “turtle-friendly”.
The DoE, using money from the Cayman Islands Environmental Protection Fund, will purchase 40 new streetlights to be installed along roads adjacent to important turtle nesting beaches. Many had already considered safety barriers to help with this, but similar turtle-friendly lights have been used successfully in other jurisdictions to reduce sea turtle hatchling mortality, while safely illuminating both roadways and beachfront properties.
The turtle-friendly street lights are part of a trial effort the partner agencies are undertaking to lessen the rate of sea turtle misorientations on Grand Cayman’s beaches.
“Roadway and residential lighting that shines onto the beach discourages female turtles from nesting and is a critical threat to hatchling sea turtles,” said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. “When they emerge from their nests at night, hatchlings find the ocean by heading toward the brightest light they can see. On an undeveloped beach, this is the moon and stars reflecting off the ocean’s surface. However, artificial lights can be much brighter and lead the baby turtles toward land, where they face mortal danger from exhaustion, dehydration, predators and vehicles.”
The 40 new turtle-friendly streetlights will replace those existing streetlights that have caused the greatest number of turtle hatchling misorientations over the past five years, based on data collected by DoE. One test light has already been installed and it is anticipated that the remainder of the lights will be in place prior to the start of the 2019 turtle nesting season, which begins in late April and usually lasts until November.
The new turtle-friendly streetlights are certified by the US Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and use an amber wavelength that is less likely to attract hatchling turtles away from the sea.
“CUC is pleased to facilitate the Turtle Friendly Streetlight Pilot Project between the National Roads Authority and the Department of Environment,” CUC Manager of Environment, Health and Safety Joni Kirkconnell said. “The installation of these specially designed light fixtures offers a balance between environmental protection and road safety. We think Cayman’s community will appreciate these lights as much as we do.”
“We are very pleased that this trial is taking place,” said NRA Acting Managing Director Edward Howard. “Replacement of the lights specified in the trial will lead to an immediate increase in sea turtle hatchling survival and will pave the way for turtle friendly roadway lighting to be rolled out on a broader scale in the future.”
“We are grateful to the DoE and its partners for bringing this initiative forward,” noted Hon. Dwayne Seymour, Minister of Health, Environment, Culture, and Housing.
A number of jurisdictions in Florida have installed turtle-friendly lighting along roads and outside beachfront condominiums and homes in efforts to protect endangered sea turtle populations. Any Cayman Islands properties wishing to install turtle friendly lights may contact the Environmental Management Unit at DoE for further information at the following email address: EMU.DoE@gov.ky. For general information about Cayman’s sea turtles, turtle nesting season, or how you can help protect our endangered turtle species, please email the DoE at Doe@gov.ky or contact us at 949-8469.