Updated: The turtle release planned for Sunday afternoon has been cancelled due to weather conditions. Turtle Farm officials said the event would be rescheduled to a later date.
One hundred and fifty turtles will be released into the wild this weekend as part of the Cayman Islands annual Pirates Week festivities.
That number is far more than the Cayman Turtle Farm has released in recent years during the annual event, largely because of what the farm said was a record number of hatchlings seen at the facility this year.
Past years have seen a limited number of juvenile turtles, usually between 10 and 15, set into the wild.
The 2011 Pirates Week festivities saw a much higher number of turtles released – about 50. However, many of those were smaller hatchling turtles and not juveniles ages 18 months and 2 years.
In the recent past, Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam said farm officials made the decision not to release the smaller hatchlings during the yearly event.
“The bigger ones have a better chance of surviving from predators,” Mr. Adam said during the 2011 release.
However, the 2011 crop of hatchlings at the farm was a bonanza compared with what has occurred in recent years, and Mr. Adam said it was decided to let a few of the younger ones go. “We had 2,514 hatchlings [in 2011], it was less than 2,000 during ,” he said. “It’s good news that we’re having that increase.”
According to Turtle Farm officials, the upcoming release will feature yearling turtles and “advanced hatchlings”. The yearlings will be fitted with micro transponders encased in glass about the size of a grain of rice. The electronic tags are injected under the turtle’s skin and can only be detected using a metal scanner.
These types of tags allow researchers around the world to identify individual animals and better understand migration and nesting patterns. The most recent data shows that at least 14 females tagged and released from the Cayman Turtle Farm in the 1980s have returned to lay their eggs on Cayman beaches.
However, according to the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, fewer than 30 adult female green sea turtles nest in the Cayman Islands each year. The objective of the Turtle Farm’s release programme is to help replenish the local population of green sea turtles, particularly reproducing females.
“Our release programme is dear to our hearts and a central component of our conservation activities as we continue to preserve the green sea turtle population,” Mr. Adam said this week. “This is a very important event for us, as we are releasing a larger number of turtles than we have in several years.”
As part of the release programme, farm officials said turtles are quarantined and reviewed for any disease or defects before release. Yearlings also take part in a process known as “head-starting”, which prepares them for life in their natural habitat by replicating conditions in the wild prior to release.
The turtle release is set for 4pm Sunday on the North Sound Golf Club property at the water’s edge. Mr. Adam said members of the public are invited to attend.