Turtles hatching on Cayman Brac’s Public Beach are managing to come to the surface in darkness as turtle nest patrollers take steps to cover up lights on the beach.
Members of the Brac Turtle Patrol, which monitors local beaches for signs of turtle nesting, have convinced authorities to turn off some of the lights at the beach and have covered other bright lights with black plastic bags.
“Under the direction of Janice Blumenthal [of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment], we built a light trap or shield, which allow the hatchlings to emerge within an enclosure,” said Bonnie Scott, a member of the patrol group.
Baby turtles are drawn toward the brightest light on the horizon once they emerge from their sandy nest. In darkness, this bright light is usually the moon on the water, which leads them into the sea. However, if there are artificial lights nearby, the hatchlings are attracted to those lights and can end up going inland and being attacked or eaten by crabs, ants and other wildlife.
Last month, the patrollers found 33 dead baby loggerhead turtles on the beach, after they strayed inland toward artificial lights.
Following that incident, members of the patrol took turns babysitting another nest on the Brac public beach earlier this month, checking it throughout the nights from 16 August, until the turtles emerged last Wednesday, 22 August.
“Turtle patrollers checked the nest periodically and saw the emergence cone forming. Just before sunset, we took up watch and found one brave hatchling had already made it out. He was active and ready to go, so Meghan Sandford released him just after sunset. About 7.30pm, a swarm of baby hatchlings burst out of the nest into the area protected by the cover,” Ms Scott said.
“We quickly moved them to a bucket and moved them to a dark spot on the beach where they all made it to the sea. A few more came out and then about 9.30pm the second swarm emerged. Again, we placed them in the bucket and carried them to a dark spot nearby where they raced to the sea. We then excavated the nest to remove any stranded [turtles] at the bottom – such a difference between this nest and the last Public Beach nest where we lost so many,” she said.
She said there were also fears that the mother of hatchlings that emerged from their nest on 11 August fell victim to poachers.
Ms Scott said that on 16 June, the turtle patrol members found “a horrifying scene – turtle tracks coming in from the sea, none going out”.
She said tracks and marks in the sand indicated that the turtle had been turned on her back and dragged away by poachers after the animal had laid her eggs.
The incident was investigated by the Department of Environment, but the poachers were not found.
The hatchlings survived, however, and 94 of them made their way into the sea, Ms Scott said.