Squeals of “Oh my gosh!” and “They’re so cute!” greeted a cluster of baby turtles emerging from a nest on Governors Beach Friday evening.
After hours of watching, a group of about 30 people was rewarded by the sight of a single baby turtle popping its head above the sand and furiously pushing itself free. Within seconds, the sand was alive with the wiggling bodies and tiny flailing flippers of the nest’s other babies, all of which quickly determined which direction the water was and headed to the surf.
The “show” was over in a matter of a few minutes. The excitement among the observers lasted considerably longer.
The event is expected to be repeated soon at a site on West Bay Public Beach, where there is a similar nest.
The nests are not natural, however. They are part of a project by the Cayman Turtle Centre, which is placing some of the eggs from its breeding program in underground nests so the hatchlings can immediately go to sea. This is the third year for the nests, said Tim Adam, managing director of the center.
“We’re aiming to have a total of 500 turtles released in 2018,” Mr. Adam said, noting that the center also releases young turtles it has raised to between the ages of 1 and 2½ years. The intent, he said, is to have half the turtles released as hatchlings and half as young turtles.
Other nests, besides the one in West Bay, are expected to produce hatchlings in the coming weeks, including ones near the Caribbean Club, the WaterColours and possibly Spotts Beach. Two nests planted earlier in the season have already hatched. So far, the center has counted 81 hatchlings that have made it to the water.
Turtle eggs typically hatch after about 60 days. It takes up to a week for the hatchlings to then make their way to the surface of the sand. The nests are about three feet beneath the surface and the eggs are planted a few days before they are expected to hatch.
At each site, the center has set up a small shelter for the nest watchers who are on-site around the clock to monitor progress and make sure the nest is not disturbed. Informational material about turtles is also on display.
Mr. Adam said more than 200 adult turtles nest on Grand Cayman each year. The center is working to increase those numbers by introducing more turtles into the population, he said.
Mr. Adam’s brother Billy was also at the emergence on Friday night. He said having more people aware and interested in the turtle activity is good for tourism.
“You see 4-year-old kids sitting down there and watching the sand and they’re just mesmerized,” Billy Adam said. “They see a movement and they’re so excited. And when they get to watch them come out, they’ll never forget it.
“They’ll want to come back to Cayman,” he said, for the same reason he continues to go out to watch the hatchlings scrabble to the surface and scramble to the sea. “It’s pure magic.”
Those interested in seeing a nest hatch can check with the on-site nest watcher, who can also provide information on a WhatsApp alert list.