More sea turtle protection

Government regulations extending the times of year during which nesting sea turtles are protected, and which seek to further limit the number of turtles taken from Cayman Islands waters each year have been approved by Cabinet.

The Marine Conservation (Turtle Protection)(Amendment) Regulations, 2007 were put into effect last month to expand the time in which sea turtles are protected against fishermen from April to November. The previous closed season for turtle fishing lasted from May to October.

‘It changes the closed season for turtles because (April and November) were when we were seeing adult turtles being taken,’ said Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

The regulations also seek to specify a minimum and maximum size for turtles which can be taken. Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the DoE has recommended a maximum size of 60 centimetres, or just less than two feet in length.

‘This would allow fishing to focus on the more abundant sub-adult population in the Cayman Islands, while protecting the nesting adult turtle population,’ she said.

The DoE has suggested that the maximum number of turtles that can be taken per season be lowered from six to four. Both recommendations must be considered by the Marine Conservation Board.

Finally, the Cabinet-approved regulations have outlawed the taking of turtles by use of a harpoon, spear gun, or a fixed net.

The regulations state turtling licences, which are issued only to island residents, must be issued annually and that those licences specify the terms under which turtles can be taken from the waters surrounding Cayman.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the Department of Environment had advocated that turtling in Cayman be halted while the numbers of nesting adult turtles continue to remain so low. She estimated that only 25-30 adult sea turtles in all were known to nest here during the warmer months.

‘Based on the nesting data we’ve collected over the last nine years, the DoE would like to see turtle fishing halted altogether,’ she said. ‘But we think these regulations are an important step forward.’

Of the adult turtles identified in Cayman during the 2007 nesting season, Ms Ebanks-Petrie said about half were green turtles and the other half loggerhead turtles. She said the hawksbill turtle did not make an appearance in Cayman during the season, although she said one did come here in 2006.

A DoE study that began in 1998 has found about 43 sea turtle nests per season on Grand Cayman, 12 per season on Cayman Brac, and about 11 per season on Little Cayman.

Though adult sea turtles generally lay 80-120 eggs on the beach each time one gives birth, its estimated only one in a thousand hatchlings will survive into adulthood and return to nest on Caymanian beaches.

Compass reporter Basia Pioro contributed to this story.