Police and Department of
Environment staff rescued a turtle weighing more than 300 pounds dragged from
its nest by poachers in West Bay last weekend.
A member of the public alerted
police that the female green sea turtle had been taken from the beach at Sand
Hole Road. The police called Department of Environment enforcement officer Mark
Orr who went to the site and after searching the area found the live turtle on
her back and trussed up in bushes 40 feet from the beach.
“They had her tied up around her
flippers and shoulders. She must have weighed at least 300 pounds. It took
three of us to drag her out of there and to flip her over,” Mr. Orr said.
Once she was back on her feet, she
quickly headed back to the sea. “She was moving fast, she knew she was in a bad
spot,” said Mr. Orr.
The poachers have not been caught.
The turtle, who had come onto the
beach to nest, had been captured before she had a chance to lay her eggs. After
she was rescued, she returned to the beach a few days later and laid her eggs.
DoE staff patrolled the beach for two days after she returned to ensure the
poachers did not come back to take her.
This is the third time DoE staff
have found poached turtles at this site in recent years. In 2007, they found a
slaughtered 350-pound turtle in bushes near the beach and in 2002; they rescued
another turtle alive at that location.
Mr. Orr said it was likely the same
poachers were responsible because the rope and the knots used were similar in
In another gruesome discovery, DoE
staff and volunteers found the head of a large adult loggerhead turtle on a
beach in East End on 15 July. Department of Environment staff said it was
possible the turtle was slaughtered at sea and the head washed up onto the
This is the middle of turtle
nesting season when pregnant turtles come to lay their eggs in nests throughout
the Cayman Islands.
In the past, four species of
turtles have laid their eggs on the Islands – loggerheads, leatherbacks, green
sea turtles and hawksbill.
Janice Blumenthal, a research
officer of the DoE, said this year only loggerheads and green sea turtles had
been laying eggs here. “We haven’t seen leatherbacks or hawksbills for a few
years,” she said.
However, despite the odds, the
number of turtles nesting in Cayman has grown this year, with about 20
loggerheads laying eggs here this summer. The season for loggerhead nesting is
coming to an end, but nesting for the green sea turtles will continue until
October, so the Department of Environment is still gathering data on how many
green sea turtles will lay eggs on local beaches.
This marks the 2010 turtle nesting
as one of the most successful since the DoE began keeping track of nests, with
the help of volunteers, in 1998.
The Marine Conservation Law
regulations were amended in December 2007 to expand the no-take season for
turtles from April to November. Previously, the no-take season was from May to
“In other years, we’ve seen fewer
than 10 loggerhead turtles nesting. I think the change in the fisheries has had
a big impact. We’re seeing more loggerhead nests this year and the loggerheads
were the most impacted by the fisheries.
“There was a closed season in the
summer, but you could take turtles in April. The nesting season began in May,
so the big loggerheads were already here in April and they were the hardest
hit,” Ms Blumenthal said.
She added that killing just one
female turtle of nesting age can have a huge impact on the future population of
turtles in Cayman. Each turtle can lay between 100 and 130 eggs at one time and
can lay several times in one season.
Director of the Department of
Environment, Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the change in the size of turtles that can
be legally caught during the turtling season had also had an impact on the
number of turtles nesting in Cayman. The amended regulations stipulate that
only turtles with shell size of 60cm can be caught.
Mr. Orr and other enforcement
officers regularly patrol Cayman’s beaches where turtles have nests.
As well as threats from poachers,
turtles also face other hazards, including getting disoriented from beach-side
lights. Baby turtles’ eyes are sensitive and they can get easily get confused
and disoriented when lights are shone on them. That means that when they try to
head into the sea, they go in the wrong direction.
Mr. Orr advised members of the
public who find hatchlings during the day to call him on 916-4271. In daylight,
the hatchlings are easy prey for birds and large fish, he advised, adding that
the baby turtles should be kept in buckets of sand covered with a towel or
blanket until night time when they can be released and pointed in the direction
of the sea.
Obstacles like beach chairs can
also disorient an adult turtle. On 15 July, Mr. Orr and a group of volunteers
had to rescue a large female turtle from a pool at a condo on Seven Mile Beach.
He said the turtle had followed a line of beach chairs on the sand to the
condos and had fallen in the pool.
It is illegal to harm turtles or
their eggs. There is a maximum fine of CI$500,000 and one year imprisonment.
Members of the public are advised
that if they come across a nesting turtle, stay behind her at a distance and
remain quiet. Don’t shine a light on her or touch her because she could become
frightened or disoriented, causing her to return to the sea before she has
fully covered her nest.
The DoE has identified 27 beaches
in Grand Cayman, seven in Cayman Brac, and 16 in Little Cayman that are
suitable for sea turtle nesting. All sea turtle species are either endangered
Anyone who finds a nesting turtle
should call the Department of Environment at 949–8469 and anyone who see
someone harming or taking sea turtles or their eggs should call 911 or Crime
Stoppers on 800-TIPS.