Sixty baby green sea turtles followed the wrong light last Friday, when they wandered onto a West Bay road instead of walking into the sea. Nineteen turtles were found dead in the road near West Bay Cemetery Beach; dozens more were found alive in the cemetery and released toward the water after dark.
Workers at the West Bay Fire Station discovered the hatchlings, and they made a report to the Department of Environment, which responded to the scene with interns and research officers.
All 60 hatchlings were believed to be from the same nest.
Turtle nests can have as many as 100 eggs at a time, which means that misorientation can rapidly affect the native population of the endangered species.
Janice Blumenthal, a research officer for the Department of Environment, said Friday’s incident was the 33rd documented time this year that baby turtles have been misoriented by artificial lights. Most of the events have occurred on Seven Mile Beach, but there have also been reports from Barkers and East End.
Turtles have traditionally used the moonlight to find their way to the ocean from their beachfront nests, but Ms. Blumenthal said artificial lighting has made that more difficult in recent years. The solution, she said, is turtle-friendly lighting, which can help protect the local population from disorientation.
“We are encouraged to see increased interest and awareness of turtle-friendly lighting but there is a long way to go in order to protect our nesting populations from this critical threat to their survival,” Ms. Blumenthal said in an email response to the Cayman Compass on Wednesday.
“Sealodges in Rum Point is an example of a property which has entirely retrofitted their beachfront with turtle-friendly lighting. The property is illuminated by a beautiful amber glow from the turtle-friendly fixtures so that all the needs of property owners are met without impacting turtles.”
The Department of Environment’s Facebook page states that turtle-friendly lighting is a legal requirement in Florida and other U.S. jurisdictions.
The Department has published a document called “Turtle lighting – Advice and Guidelines,” which can be found on its website.