Turtles find freedom Wednesday

This year, the 25th annual turtle release, will see 20 yearlings discover freedom in the open seas at Seven Mile Beach.

And this year’s release is extra special since last year Hurricane Ivan cancelled the event.

Proceedings begin at 4pm at the Public Beach, Seven Mile Beach Wednesday, with the actual release taking place at 5pm.

The 20 people chosen to release a turtle will follow instructions on how to release their turtles. The release will allow the public the opportunity to join the farm in its conservation efforts.

‘In the past we’ve had several thousand people turn up at this event, but this year we expect a very good turnout because there was none last year,’ said Curator, Marine and Research Boatswain’s Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm, Catherine Bell.

The event is also one that tourists thoroughly enjoy.

Each of the yearlings will be fitted with a metal tag engraved with an identification number and the address of the Farm.

The Turtle Farm holds an annual turtle release each year to help replenish wild turtle stocks. Over 30,000 have been released since 1980 in the release programme, known to biologists as headstarting.

Turtles released by the farm in 1985 and 1988 began returning to nest on Grand Cayman in 2002. They were identified by the living tag system developed at the farm. The most recent living tagged turtle returned in early August 2005. This tagging method involves the auto grafting of a small, white dot of belly shell onto the turtle’s dark coloured back. This is done when the turtle is only a few days old. As the animal grows, the dot grows with it.

According to information from the Turtle Farm, historically the Cayman Islands boasted one of the largest green sea turtle populations in the Caribbean and possibly the world.

‘Indeed there were so many turtles that upon discovery of the Islands in 1503 Christopher Columbus named them Las Tortugas. However from as early as the 17th Century this resource had become commercially extinct and by 1900, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature had deemed this population to be extinct in the Cayman Islands.

‘Today, according to Department of Environment data, there are less than 30 adult female green sea turtles nesting in the Cayman Islands each year. To this end, one objective of the headstarting programme is to provide the replenishment of the local reproductive population of green sea turtles.

‘Analysis of data collected from tag returns of released turtles demonstrates some success. Tag returns, from between one month to 19 years after release, have come from Belize, Cayman, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the USA, with released turtles following similar migratory pathways as those born in the wild. Some Farm released turtles have even come back to nest in the Cayman Islands as adults, with reproductive data showing clutch size, incubation duration and hatch success to be comparable to those of wild turtles.

‘Growth rates in recaptured animals released from the Farm have been shown to be similar to wild caught animals of the same species in the region. These data demonstrate that released animals are adapting readily to their new environment and are adopting behavioural characteristics that allow them to survive in the wild and potentially to reproduce and contribute to the long-term enhancement of wild stocks.’

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