Volunteers made the heartbreaking discovery of the charred remains of dozens of tiny turtle hatchlings on a Grand Cayman beach.
The disorientated turtles had apparently stumbled into the still-burning embers of a beach bonfire in South Sound on Wednesday.
Now environmental watchdogs are warning people they need to ensure they have a permit and to take precautions when building fires on the beach. Janice Blumenthal, a research officer with the Department of Environment, said the turtles had likely become disorientated and walked into the fire.
“When they emerge from their nests, hatchling turtles move in the direction of the brightest light they can see,” she said. “If this is not the moon and stars reflecting off the ocean’s surface, they often crawl in the wrong direction, away from the sea.
“In this case, the turtles were most likely initially misoriented by residential lights on the beach and then by the glowing embers of a bonfire. They appear to have been killed by the heat of the fire.”
Bonfires require approval from the Department of Environmental Health. The fire involved in the current incident had not received a permit, according to Ms. Blumenthal.
She urged anyone holding bonfires on the beach to get a permit, to never leave a fire unattended and to ensure the fires are fully extinguished before leaving.
Monitoring of turtle nesting across the Cayman Islands has shown that populations are steadily increasing, though numbers remain critically low and threats from poachers and development are a constant menace.
Hatchlings run a gauntlet of risks, both natural and man-made, that means only an estimated one in every 1,000 baby turtles survives to adulthood. An adult female turtle lays around 100 eggs each time it nests.
Anyone who wants a bonfire permit can call the Department of Environmental Health at 949-6696. Information on turtle nesting or turtle friendly lighting is available from the Department of Environment at 949-8469 or on the DoE’s Sea Turtle Hotline at 938-NEST (938-6378).