The Department of Environment (DoE) reports a record turtle season in its efforts to protect endangered sea turtles in the Cayman Islands. The DoE’s Sea Turtle Monitoring programme has been in operation since 1998, when they began conducting systematic annual surveys of our beaches to identify signs of turtle nesting. This year broke several records and reflects the ongoing success of the programme.
The season started in an unusual way, with the Cayman Islands in lockdown and beaches closed. Although this presented a number of challenges for the monitoring team, it meant that nesting turtles had little to no disturbances on the beaches and this positive impact was reflected by nesting occurring in new locations.
Towards the end of the season, a number of tropical storms and passing hurricanes threatened nests and the DoE’s Turtle Team were kept very busy assessing nest safety, and where necessary, relocating nests to safer locations. Despite the team’s best efforts, high seas caused more than 30 nests to become inundated with varying impacts to the hatch, and 10 nests were completely washed away due to unpredictable and significant beach erosion during the storm season.
On Grand Cayman, the 2020 turtle nesting season was a record with 506 confirmed nests. This included 345 green turtle nests, 156 loggerhead turtle nests, and 5 hawksbill turtle nests. For the endangered green turtles, it was the most nests recorded in a season since monitoring began. Although the increasing number of nests does correlate to an increase in the number of nesting turtles, each female can lay up to nine nests in a season and therefore the size of the nesting population is still very small.
Cayman Brac also had a successful season with 51 confirmed nests which included 41 loggerhead, 8 green, and 2 hawksbill turtle nests. This was also a new record for green turtle nest numbers by one nest. Additionally, Cayman Brac recorded the latest nest on record for the three islands, as a hawksbill nest was discovered on Christmas Eve. The DoE were unfortunately unable to confirm the total number of nests from Little Cayman for the 2020 season due to pandemic related staff capacity restrictions.
Poaching remains an ongoing threat to the adult females when they are attempting to nest and are killed for illegal sale. DoE’s conservation officers remained vigilant throughout the season and undertook several turtle rescues and intercepted a poaching attempt thereby saving the turtle.
The DoE is extremely grateful for the support of the more than 40 regular volunteers who supported the programme by walking beaches to report tracks, assisting with data collection, and helping DoE staff to protect nests and conserve our sea turtles.