Nesting green turtle, green turtle nest, and green turtle hatchlings.
Photos: Mark Orr (1,3) and Monica Fowlds (2)
Sea turtles are charismatic endangered animals that have roamed the seas and nested on our shores for millions of years. A healthy wild sea turtle population can provide unforgettable experiences to Cayman Islands residents and visitors by allowing observation of turtle tracks and nests on our beaches, juvenile turtles in our waters, and baby turtles emerging from the sand and scurrying into the sea.
While sea turtles spend the majority of their lives in the ocean, during the nesting season female turtles make their way on shore to lay their eggs in the sand. The nesting process takes about 1-2 hours and then the female turtle returns to the water, leaving a distinctive track on the beach. After about fifty to sixty days, baby turtles (called “hatchlings”) will emerge from the sand and will scurry down to the sea. With luck, after 15-20 years or more they will return to breed and replenish our populations.
The Department of Environment is dedicated to protecting sea turtles and learning as much as possible about the biology and life history of these elusive animals. For more information on DoE monitoring and how you can help, see:
DoE Turtle Beach Monitoring Programme
In recent years, a dramatic increase in sea turtle nesting numbers has been observed. However, as more nesting now occurs on developed beaches, threats to turtles have also increased, making the continued recovery and survival of nesting sea turtles in the Cayman Islands uncertain.
Illegal take continues to be one of the most serious threats to our nesting population. Typically, several turtles are taken each year. This represents a tremendous loss to the nesting population, which is still critically small.
Artificial lighting is another major threat to our turtles. Every year, artificial lights near the beach misorient hatchlings – leading them away from the sea where they are killed by dehydration, exhaustion, or vehicles. Fortunately, there is a win-win solution for beachfront residents and turtles: cost-effective, efficient ‘turtle friendly’ lighting can be implemented in order to drastically reduce misorientation of hatchling turtles, increase nesting, and promote low season ecotourism.
Turtle Friendly Lighting page for more information.
Other threats to the nesting population include driving on the beach (the weight of vehicles or other heavy equipment can crush emerging hatchlings and eggs), bonfires on the beach during the nesting season, and alterations to nesting habitat such as beach renourishment and barricades.
Here’s how you can help protect nesting habitat:Protecting Nesting Habitat – what you can do
Protecting Nesting Habitat – what you can do
For juvenile turtles, ingestion of litter and other debris and entanglement represent the most serious threats. For more information, see:
Turtles and fishingline – what you can do
Fishing Line Clean Up Guidelines