Species Conservation Plan Proposals
Public Consultation: 3 July, 2019 – 9 September, 2019
Public Notice: Conservation Plan for marine turtles
The Cayman Islands once supported one of the world’s largest green turtle nesting populations and abundant nesting by loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles. These populations were driven to the verge of extinction by historical harvesting but surveys by Department of Environment (DoE) over the past two decades revealed encouraging upward trends in green, loggerhead, and hawksbill nesting numbers. However, in real terms nesting numbers are still critically low and our endangered sea turtle nesting populations now face increasing threats.
The goal of this Conservation Plan is to facilitate the survival and recovery of Cayman Islands sea turtle populations by addressing the threats to their survival, ensuring that sea turtles continue to inhabit our waters and nest on our shores.
Through twenty years of population monitoring, DoE has identified artificial lighting on nesting beaches and illegal hunting/poaching as the greatest threats to our sea turtle nesting populations. Without addressing these and other threats, Cayman Islands sea turtle populations cannot survive.
Artificial lighting on beaches creates the greatest threat to the long-term survival of turtle nesting populations in the Cayman Islands.
Every year, thousands of baby turtles die unnecessarily when they become misoriented by artificial lighting. When baby turtles (called hatchlings) emerge from their nests at night, they 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, but artificial lights are often much brighter and lead the baby turtles toward land, where they die from exhaustion, dehydration, vehicles, or predators.
Fortunately, “turtle friendly lighting” offers a proven solution to this problem. It is designed to meet the needs of beachfront property owners for safe and attractive illumination of their properties without discouraging female turtles from laying their eggs or causing the death of baby turtles. Turtle friendly lighting does not mean that beachfront properties must be dark – instead, lights can be directed away from the beach and bulbs with a visually appealing amber wavelength can be used; this colour resembles candlelight and studies have shown that it is least likely to misorient hatchling turtles away from the ocean. Turtle friendly lighting is cost-effective and energy-efficient so property owners can enjoy long-term cost-savings. It has been a legal requirement on nesting beaches in Florida for over twenty years.
In recognition of the significant and increasing threat that artificial lighting on our nesting beaches presents, this Conservation Plan proposes that from the date of coming into force, turtle friendly lighting be required for new developments that will impact sea turtle critical habitat. Many important turtle nesting beaches are already highly developed and artificial lighting from existing properties also threatens the survival of nesting populations. Therefore, for existing properties in and impacting sea turtle critical habitat, it is proposed that proprietors replace lighting that illuminates the beach with turtle friendly lighting within 3 years.
By committing to turtle friendly lighting, the Cayman Islands would safeguard endangered sea turtle nesting populations, benefit many economic sectors, and make a national and international statement on our commitment to sea turtle conservation and the protection of a national symbol of our cultural heritage.
A study conducted by the DoE and the University of Exeter found that illegal harvesting of turtles in the Cayman Islands was high relative to the size of the wild turtle nesting population, with at least 200 households estimated to have bought illegal turtle meat in the year prior to the survey.
Because legal turtle products (from Cayman Turtle Centre) and illegal turtle products (from wild Cayman Islands sea turtle populations) are largely indistinguishable, poaching of endangered wild turtles and sale of illegal wild turtle products is made significantly easier. In order to control illegal hunting, legal turtle meat from the Cayman Turtle Centre will soon be sold in marked, individually identifiable and non-reusable bags (e.g. freezer-safe barcoded bags with a tamper-evident seal) which will identify legal turtle meat and allow law enforcement officers to distinguish between legal and illegal meat.
This Conservation Plan proposes that consumers must store turtle meat in the tamper-evident marked bag it was purchased in until the bag is opened for the meat to be cooked. This method of identifying legal turtle products would assist in reducing poaching, which is a major threat to the survival of wild turtle nesting populations.
Other important threats to turtles include operation of vehicles and heavy equipment on the beach which can crush turtle nests, disturbance of turtle mating and nesting, and unregulated bonfires on beaches during the turtle nesting season.
Note:  The National Conservation Law defines “critical habitat” as the specific areas of land containing the physical, biological and ecological features needed for the conservation of a species as specified in the Conservation Plan for the species. In this Conservation Plan critical habitat for sea turtles is identified as beaches which have had the highest density of turtle nesting over the monitoring period (1998-2018).
Critical habitat maps for marine turtles (please click the images to review detailed maps):
Marine turtle nesting beach maps (please click the images to enlarge):
Public Consultation: 8 May, 2019 – 15 July, 2019
Public Notice: Proposed changes to hunting season for the white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) and the blue-winged teal (Anas discors).
The National Conservation Council (NCC) is seeking public comments on a plan to change hunting seasons for the white-winged dove (current season October-March – proposed season August-September) and the blue-winged teal (current season September-April – proposed season October-December).
The public consultation period will end on 15 July, 2019. Copies of the proposal may be obtained at the Department of Environment (DoE) offices at 580 North Sound Road or online at www.doe.ky Any comments on the proposal may be received at the DoE offices, mailed to PO Box 10202, Grand Cayman KY1-1002, or sent via email to [email protected].
Species Conservation Plan for Mangroves
Mangroves are a familiar and widespread feature of our landscapes. Red Mangrove, Black Mangrove, White Mangrove and Buttonwood trees can be seen on many of our shorelines, out of our car windows as we commute, along MRCU dyke roads, and even in residential and commercial landscapes. Because they are so ubiquitous we tend not to think of them as being in any danger.
For our mangroves, however, all is not quite as comfortable as it seems. In western Grand Cayman for example, between 1976 and 2013 more than two-thirds of the area occupied by mangroves (69%) was removed to create land for human uses. This process is ongoing and is taking away the ecological services that mangrove ecosystems provide and which benefit us in many ways.
Mangroves in 1976 (shown in green) Mangroves lost by 2013 (shown in red)
Mangroves are also threatened by modern sea level rise. For thousands of years, the mangroves have been laying down peat that has kept pace with the rise in sea level. With climate change, sea level rise now appears to be accelerating, and the mangroves may not be able to keep up. If they submerge too deeply, they die.
For these reasons, the National Red List status of the mangroves is edging into the endangered zone. Red Mangrove is “Near Threatened”. Buttonwood and White Mangrove are “Vulnerable”. Black Mangrove is already “Endangered.”
This Conservation Plan seeks to moderate the ongoing loss of mangrove in the Cayman Islands. It proposes the use of the National Conservation Law to establish additional protected areas in key mangrove sites, and gives protection to all mangroves in their natural setting with necessary exceptions made for a wide range of economically important activities.
Existing development approval procedures such as Planning Permissions, Coastal Works Licenses and Gazettal of road corridors will continue to operate normally, and development approved through these procedures will not be affected by this plan.
Mangrove Trimming Guidelines issued under this Conservation Plan lay out the options and methods that can be used by property owners wishing to create or maintain a view through, or over naturally situated mangroves.
Use of cultivated mangroves in landscapes is encouraged by allowing collection of mangrove propagules, growing in pots and buying and selling cultivated specimens. Cultivated mangroves planted as part of landscapes are (of course) not subject to conservation measures.
The main effect this Conservation Plan will have is to raise the level of protection on mangroves which are not currently approved for development. Clearing mangroves in the absence of valid and current planning permission, for example, will constitute a violation of the National Conservation Law and could carry severe penalties.