The revival of nesting sea turtles in Grand Cayman continued in 2016, despite a reported increase in poaching incidents.
Across all three islands, volunteers counted a total of 430 nests: 305 in Grand Cayman, 89 in Little Cayman and 36 in Cayman Brac.
The figures represent a record total for Grand Cayman, though not for the islands as a whole.
The statistics continue a general upward trend, with numbers rebounding from just 30 nests on Grand Cayman in 1999, when monitoring first began.
Janice Blumenthal, a research officer at the Department of Environment, said increased protection of nesting beaches by conservation officers and volunteers, as well as a ban on turtle fishing since 2008 has aided the revival.
She added that researchers were also beginning to see green turtles, released from the Cayman Turtle Farm in the 1980s, returning to lay their nests, bolstering numbers further.
Despite the positive trend, she cautioned that each turtle lays multiple nests in a season, meaning that the actual number of nesting turtles is still quite small. She said they and their hatchlings still face significant threats.
“The turtles now nesting on our beaches were born 20 to 30 years ago and did not face the same threats. Due to artificial lighting on our beaches, it is uncertain how many of the baby turtles born each year can survive and continue to replenish our populations.”
She added that the nesting turtles also face increased threat from poaching, with several incidents recorded this year.
On Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club General Manager Jennifer Mills, a turtle-watch volunteer for 14 years, says community awareness has increased the number of volunteers.
“Twenty volunteers helped with the turtle watch on Little Cayman this season, more than ever before. It is a privilege to be involved and witness the project grow and develop,” she said.
Ms. Blumenthal added, “We would not be able to operate our nesting beach monitoring program without our volunteers. Across the three islands, we have more than 100 volunteers. We would like to say thank you to all of our volunteers who helped us check these beaches four days per week for nearly six months. With their help, this year we walked over 1,400 miles.”
The statistics for the 2016 season could change slightly before the end of the year.