A 300-pound turtle that died from injuries when it was struck by a boat propeller has prompted cautions from the Department of Environment during turtle breeding and nesting season.
Kayakers discovered the dead turtle Wednesday in a mangrove area in North Sound. It had a deep fracture in its upper shell.
Turtles are vulnerable to boat strikes because they spend time at the surface breathing, basking in the sun and mating, said Janice Blumenthal, Department of Environment research officer.
As the turtle breeding and nesting season continues from now throughout the summer, the DOE is urging the public to exercise caution when boating, use slow speeds when possible, and watch out for turtles at the surface, Ms. Blumenthal said.
“We hope this unfortunate incident increases the boating public’s awareness, helping us better protect and conserve Cayman’s turtles.”
Paul Chin, coordinator of DOE’s Marine Turtle Beach Monitoring Program, said research officers have been working to help boost the turtle survival rate, as only one in 1,000 turtles reach adulthood, despite female turtles laying up to seven nests a season, with about 125 eggs per nest.
“That’s very bad odds, so they have to lay as many eggs as they do to increase their chances of survival,” Mr. Chin said.
He said DOE staff and program volunteers monitor Grand Cayman’s beaches four mornings a week, spotting, marking and tracking the nests, and covering exposed nests to protect them from poachers and predators.
Mr. Chin said it is a long-term project, since turtles take 20 years to mature, but he said they have already noticed an increase in turtle numbers.
“We have seen a gradual increase, it’s not expediential or anything like that, but we’ve seen small increases in numbers, which is good. But on the flip side of that, we still do see some poaching happening with people taking nests and turtles off the beach, so we are trying to eradicate that problem,” he said.
He said volunteers also help newborn turtles that did not find their way to the water and also monitor light pollution, which often confuses the turtles.
“If we have a nest that’s in a brightly lit area, we have to take special care of that one so that the turtles don’t go the wrong way,” Mr. Chin said.
“When there’s bright light. they go towards the light, which tends to be towards the sand and not the ocean. Usually, under normal circumstances, turtles use the moon reflecting off the ocean to guide them into the water.”
Samples have been collected from the turtle at North Sound and delivered to St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine where veterinarians and students will examine them and provide reports to the DOE.
Anyone who finds dead or injured turtles is asked to call the Sea Turtle Hotline on 938-6378. To volunteer for the Marine Turtle Beach Monitoring Program, email the Department of Environment at [email protected]