By Christopher Tobutt
Cayman Turtle Centre released two turtles, ‘Speedy,’ and ‘Sweetie,’ from Governor’s beach in honour of World Animal Day, on the fourth of October. Each of the turtles are two years old, and they weigh 20 pounds. The turtles were raised from eggs in the Centre, and kept in the Touch Tanks where visitors get the chance to stroke the turtles.
They were taken care of by Cayman Turtle Centre bus driver, Peter Milburn. Milburn got quite attached to the turtles, and he was sad to see them go, although of course, happy for them at the same time, because they were going to start a new life in the world’s oceans, and maybe come back to the Cayman Islands in 20 years’ time, to breed.
”I had some kids come over one day and I said I need a name for this turtle,” Mr. Milburn explained, and they said, “Sweetie,” and I thought it was a good name for her, because she was so tame when I put my fingers in the water she would always come right over, and then the kids would come and play with her. The other one here his name is Speedy Gonzales – I named him that because he used to swim around and around very fast like a racing driver.”
The Centre’s Shona McGill said, “Both of these are green sea turtles and they play a huge role in the marine environment. In the wild they are one of the largest herbivorous animals. Out in the wild they graze on seagrass beds, keeping them nice and healthy, and they keep those as healthy nursery habitats for crustaceans like lobsters and crabs and also mollusks like conch shells.”
The releases are part of the Centre’s ‘Head Start,’ Programme, which looks after the tiny, vulnerable hatchlings until they have big strong shells, so that even quite a big shark wouldn’t want to bite them unless it wanted to lose a tooth. The programme has been very successful and has resulted in hundreds of sea turtles coming back to live in the Cayman Islands to breed.
“There is also algae which covers our coral reefs so if any of you are snorkelers or divers you’ll definitely see that with climate warming we are getting a lot more algae growth on our coral reefs,” Ms McGill said, “So they will keep the coral growing, because where algae grows, coral cannot grow. It smothers the coral and causes it to die. So they help the coral reefs to thrive for our snorkelers and scuba divers, for the time when eventually tourism returns.”
Once they are released, it has been found that the turtles can travel many hundreds, or even thousands of miles, but they have a homing device, a kind of magnetic crystal in their brains, which will bring them back to Cayman’s shores in maybe 20 or 30 years’ time, Ms McGill said.
“Both of these turtles have a microchip embedded in their shoulder. It’s a little bit larger than a grain of rice, and that means that anywhere in the world these turtles go to, if a researcher has a microchip reader, they can scan it and it will come up with all the information about where the turtle was released from.”