Two years and a day after the Cayman Turtle Farm’s last public release of green sea turtles into the wild, hundreds of people gathered on Seven Mile Beach’s Public Beach to watch 10 juvenile turtles return to their natural habitat.
The Cayman Turtle Farm/Boatswain’s Beach facility had stopped the public releases of turtles in late 2007 due to concerns about dropping reproductive rates at the farm.
At least one turtle release each year is scheduled during Pirates’ Week on West Bay Heritage Day.
Turtle Farm officials named the winners of a drawing held earlier to determine which ten people would get to take a turtle to the seashore. Those ten then had to run a narrow gauntlet of hundreds of on-lookers, including people standing in the water, before letting the turtles free.
The turtles released are between a year and 18 months old. Turtle farm officials believe releasing them at this age gives them a bit better chance of survival in the wild. Mortality rates for baby turtles born in the wild are extremely high.
Since the turtle release programme was started in the 1980’s, more than 31,000 turtle have been released into the sea.
In late 2007, the turtle farm was forced to end its turtle release programme and cut back the amount of turtle meat sold for consumption. Turtle stew remains an extremely popular dish in the Cayman Islands, and turtle meat continues to be sold from the farm.
Farm officials had estimated two years ago that with current reproduction levels, there would not be enough turtles to meet demand by the year 2011.
However, the Turtle Farm’s Calicia Burke said Tuesday that those levels had increased enough to allow for the small release on public beach.