Researchers in Little Cayman witnessed a rare sight last week as all three species of sea turtles found in the Cayman Islands hatched on the same beach on the same night.
Department of Environment intern Lucy Collyer, who is monitoring turtle nesting in Little Cayman, found loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtle hatchlings.
To the untrained eye, the tiny loggerhead and hawksbill hatchlings are barely distinguishable from each other. But the subtly different pattern of hexagonal plates, known as scutes, marks them as distinct species.
The green turtle hatchlings are easier to distinguish because of the color and size.
“This is only the second time I have ever had the opportunity to have all three species hatching on one day so I was very excited,” said Ms. Collyer.
Of particular interest to researchers is the discovery of a hawksbill nest on Little Cayman – the first of the season.
Nesting hawksbill turtles, distinctive as adults with their hooked bills, are the least common of the three species found on Cayman’s beaches between March and October.
In 2015, for the three islands combined, DoE documented 224 loggerhead nests, 203 green turtle nests and 10 hawksbill nests. Nesting turtles make between three and six nests in a season.
“With the exception of only a couple of nests found on Grand Cayman back in 2013, Little Cayman is to date the only island that has had a consistent nesting population of hawksbills over the last three years, so I am delighted to see that 2016 will continue the trend for nesting hawksbills,” she said.
Historically, four sea turtle species have nested in the Cayman Islands: green, loggerhead, leatherback and hawksbill.
Since 1998, the Department of Environment has been conducting a systematic survey of the beaches of the Cayman Islands to identify signs of turtle nesting. The first years of monitoring showed that leatherback nesting was extinct, but extremely small numbers of green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles persisted.
Since that time, the populations of the those three species have experienced a resurgence.