“Officer, there’s a turtle stuck in my hedge.” It sounds like an unusual complaint, but for Cayman’s environment officers, lost or distressed turtles that have wandered away from their territory are not uncommon during nesting season.
Nesting turtles have taken wrong turns and found themselves trapped in undergrowth, in a cemetery, and even in private swimming pools.
Mark Orr, the Department of Environment’s chief enforcement officer, said he had been called out on two occasions in the past few weeks to free the same green turtle from a hedge bordering the beach.
“The spot where she is nesting is close to a very thick hedge,” he said. “When she tried to cover her nest and throw sand on the egg chamber, she got caught in the roots. We had to pull away some of the roots and get her going in the right direction again.”
The Department of Environment does not give out location details of any nests because of fears of poaching. Mr. Orr said the same turtle would return five or six times to the same beach during a nesting season, from May to November. He said this turtle had become stuck in the same patch of hedge a few weeks earlier.
Turtles travel thousands of miles during their lifetimes before returning to the beach where they were born.
As coastlines change and development encroaches on once deserted beaches, ensuring nesting turtles’ safety has become more of a challenge. The Department of Environment, aided by volunteers, monitors the nesting sites to keep them safe from dangers – including getting lost and failing to find their way back to the ocean.
Janice Blumenthal, a research officer with the DoE, said turtles had been found in swimming pools, parking lots, roads and West Bay cemetery.
She said artificial lights on nesting beaches often caused disorientation, particularly for hatchlings. The clearing of native vegetation from beach ridges also means some turtles occasionally misjudge the parameters of the beach and continue to crawl away from the sea.
Data collected by the DoE over the past decade show many nests are in highly developed areas such as Seven Mile Beach, making them susceptible to threats, including lights near the beach, beach driving, heavy equipment operation, bonfires, and poaching.
A dedicated “turtle hotline” – 938-NEST (938-6378) – has been set up to allow the public to alert the DoE whenever they see they spot turtle nests or see a nesting turtle or baby turtles in danger.
People are also asked to limit beach lighting where possible, refrain from driving or lighting bonfires on the beach during nesting season and protect beach-side vegetation.