The annual survey of breeder turtles is set to take place at the Turtle Center in several weeks.
From April to November each year, turtle breeding takes place at the Center’s Breeder Pond, with mature turtles laying their eggs in the sandy beach area of the facility during the nesting season.
As part of the program, each turtle has to be rounded up, and lifted out of the pond to be measured, weighed, and given a health check-up by the Centre’s onsite veterinarians, Dr. Vandanaa Baboolal and Dr. Francesca Casella.
“The breeding turtles are all very important to the Centre’s conservation programmes and great care is taken to ensure that they are healthy,” according to a press release from the Turtle Center, which added that the exercise only happens once a year; after one nesting season ends - but before another begins.
It takes a considerable amount of time to check/survey all of the 280 turtles at the Center because they are all swimming freely and the pond they live in is large and deep, as such, the operation is spread over several weeks.
The animals are also quite heavy, weighing from around 250 to nearly 500 pounds each.
As a result of their size and weight, the turtles have to be lifted out of the pond using a crane and a sturdy steel-framed box with an opening door. Once inside the box, veterinarians perform individual physical exams on the creatures.
The Centre’s Turtle Husbandry Manager, Jerris Miller, noted: “We measure each one of them, the length and the width, the veterinarians give them a medical checkup and we put them back into the breeder pond.
“We want to make sure they are maintaining healthy weights and so we compare last year’s weights and numbers to this year’s. We keep our statistics together so we can see how individual turtles grow.”
In addition to making sure each of the turtle is fit and healthy, the survey serves the purpose of an auditor’s inventory-count. It is also a valuable and unique source of scientific data, for those who are engaged in studies of Green turtles.
“We can go back 20 years with very accurate records,” remarked Mr. Miller. He added that the survey is an invaluable database, to better help in understanding Green sea turtles.
The mature breeding turtles in the Centre’s breeding pond are a crucial part of the facility’s conservation programmes, which also include the release of turtles into the wild.
More than 32,000 turtles have been released to the sea through the Centre’s hatchling and head starting release initiatives.
The programme has also been proven to be effective via an independent Darwin Plus study, headed by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the University of Barcelona and the University of Exeter, which showed that no less than 90% of the wild Green sea turtles nesting in Cayman are genetically related to the Centre’s breeding stock.
Cayman Turtle Centre is one of a tiny handful of turtle conservation facilities in the world, where data on Green sea turtles at every stage of their lifecycle is available.
Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre is a conservation, education and scientific study organization and one of the largest tourist attractions in the Cayman Islands.
Its mission and work encompass a multifaceted approach to the conservation of sea turtles and other indigenous animals.
Through an extensive and proven captive breeding, rearing and release programme, the Centre’s focus is on green sea turtles but also includes other at-risk species such as the Cayman Parrot.
The chief aim however, is to sustain and increase the wild population of marine turtles.
The organization advances the results through the release of captive-bred turtles into the wild, by collaborative scientific studies, and by integrating conservation education.