The baby turtles poke their heads and bodies through the sand under which they’ve been buried for three months, quickly struggle free and immediately start moving down the beach towards the sea, cheered on by tourists witnessing this rarely seen event.
This is the scene in a video of baby turtles hatching on a beach near the Reef Resort in East End filmed earlier this month and is indicative of the growing interest in eco-tourism in the Cayman Islands.
Paul Robinson, marketing director of the Reef Resort, said the number of nests in the vicinity had grown over the years and with it, the interest of the guests at the resort in the welfare of turtles has increased.
“If a nest is found, we contact the Department of Environment. The tourists ask us about the nests and our staff counsels them on what to do and what not to do, for example, we might ask them to keep children away from the nests and not disturb them.
“When it comes time for the eggs to hatch, we ask them to turn off their outside lights as those lights confuse the turtles. The guests and staff do what they can to ensure that as many of the baby turtles make it into the water as possible,” he said.
The turtles usually break through the sand at night, but if they come out during the daylight hours, they are easy targets for predators such as birds and bigger fish.
The turtle hatching on the video happened soon after sundown, Mr. Robinson said.
Video footage of turtles is relatively rare as filming the baby turtles at night is discouraged because camera lights can temporarily blind and confuse the hatchlings.
The guests and staff name the nests and the turtles that come up onto the beach at the resort, said Mr. Robinson, making the hatching events special and more personal for the guests.
He said over the years, guests seemed to be becoming more conscious of the need to protect nature and having the experience of watching baby turtles hatch or see a turtle nest adds a whole new element to their holidays.
Sandra Spannheimer, the Reef Resort’s reservations and member services manager, said Department of Environment alerts the hotel when the nests are expected to hatch and then the staff and guests keep an eye out for the tell-tale sign of shifting sand that indicates the babies are getting ready to move.
“For the last three or four years, we’ve been watching for them,” Ms Spannheimer said.
While not every hotel or condo unit is lucky enough to have turtles making nests right on their doorstep, at those where it does occur, management and staff are starting to realise their guests would be interested in finding out more.
“Certainly, the whole more eco-conscious attitude of travellers sits well with the demographic that comes here. People are more aware and more interested,” said Trina Christian, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
That growing interest in the environment and conservation is one of the reasons why the Blue Iguana Research Centre and lion fish hunts are becoming more popular with visitors to Grand Cayman, she said.
“It seems people want a greater purpose to their activities when they travel,” she said.
The Department of Environment advises beachgoers who find baby turtles lost in the sand during the day to place them in a box or bucket of sand and release them at nighttime near the high tide mark at the shoreline of the beach. To protect the newborns’ sight, red filters should be used on flashlights and cameras.
Anyone who finds turtle nests or hatchlings should notify the Department of Environment on 938-6378 (NEST).