By Christopher Tobutt
More than 50 young students from Cayman International School (CIS) helped to release ‘Moonlight,’ a two-and-a-half year old green sea turtle, into the ocean on 29 January at Governor’s Beach. Lots of moms and dads were there too, with phones at the ready to keep the memories of the special occasion safe. All the kids got excited when Cayman Turtle Centre staff took Moonlight onto the beach in a big black plastic tub and then each of the children took turns to stroke the turtle’s shell (after sanitizing their hands to make sure that Moonlight didn’t pass on any infections to other sea animals).
Grade Two teacher Amanda Brown explained: “We are in the midst of our ‘One Ocean’ project, and the children are learning about ocean issues here in Cayman and how together we can make an impact on our island and the ocean at large, and make a difference. The children chose the name Moonlight when they entered a competition to help with turtle conservation because when the sea turtles hatch they actually go to the sea to see the moonlight on the horizon.”
Turtle Centre’s Education Officer Shona McGill told the children all about Moonlight, and the other turtles which are all part of the Centre’s Head Starting release programme, which gives baby turtles a head start in life by taking care of them until they are big enough to take care of themselves: “They started off a little bit larger than the size of a golf ball,” she said.
“Does anyone here know why it is called a green sea turtle? because it looks pretty brown to me,” Ms. McGill asked the children. “Yes. It is because it eats green things, like sea grass and when they eat those things they keep our coral reefs healthy. So just by you guys releasing one green sea turtle into the wild, you guys are not just helping sea turtles, you are helping every single animal out there.”
Moonlight had a microchip about the size of a grain of rice attached to her, Ms. McGill explained, so that if she (or ‘he’ it is only when turtles are older that you can know for sure) was found, information could be gathered.
As the children waved bye-bye, Moonlight slowly made her way down to the edge of the sea where, first of all she hesitated, before being embraced by the waves and welcomed into her new home. Turtles often hesitate like this when they are released, and it is thought that they have some way of imprinting information about the beach inside them, so that one day they will be able to come home to the very same beach to lay their eggs.
Two of the children who helped release Moonlight, Poppy and Finlay both age seven, where thrilled. “I liked letting the turtle go. I really liked it because I really like turtles,” said Poppy. Finlay agreed:” I felt when I was releasing the turtle I felt happy because I was letting the turtle go into the sea,” he said.