A group of children had a magical and educational experience on Thursday night when they got to see up close the release of 100 baby turtles into the wild.
“It was a great experience for me because I never experienced anything like this,” Aaliyah Powell said, after she watched the hatchlings wiggle their way across the beach to the open sea.
“The baby turtles were so cute, and it was a fantastic experience to see them brave off into the ocean by themselves to expand the survival of their species,” she said.
“I do feel bad that some might not make it, but that is part of nature. If we could save every single animal on Earth, I would go for it, but it’s just the circle of life,” she added.
A chorus of “Aww” went up through the crowd on the beach as the first baby turtle was freed from a bucket held by Jerrica Wood, an officer working with the Department of Environment.
Wood was leading the night’s release after the hatchlings were collected by DoE officers from a nesting area on the Pease Bay beach earlier that morning.
“The release is great for the island because it awesome to have lots of new turtles going out in the wild,” said Chad Powell, who along with other family members, swatted away a multitude of mosquitoes on the beach as they watched the action.
He said he hoped the turtles would get a chance to survive in the wild. “It’s great to see everyone come out to support the release,” he said.
Kayleigh Powell, Chad’s sister, was just as excited. “I am happy the baby turtles got the opportunity to live their lives, and when they come back there will be more turtles in the ocean after they lay their eggs and the eggs hatch. The life cycle will go over again,” Kayleigh said.
Charlie Powell, the children’s grandfather, discovered the nest 47 days earlier while enjoying an early morning cup of coffee on the beach.
He said he was lying in his hammock when a female turtle crawled up on the beach to check out the area, but she did not stop to lay eggs. He took a stroll down the beach and spotted tracks that showed where the turtle had come ashore earlier to nest.
He notified the Department of Environment, and because his grandchildren wanted to see the turtles coming out of the ground, he began monitoring the nest each morning.
One morning, he discovered a second nest about 75 feet from the first one. When environmental officers came to check that nest, they discovered that a Bobcat machine cleaning the beach had packed sand over the first nest and the baby turtles could not get out.
The officers dug out the hatchlings, put them in a container with sand, and took them away for safekeeping. They were kept in a dark place to give them the feeling of still being in the nest, then they were brought back to the same beach that night to be released, Wood said.
This, she said, ensures that when the babies become adults, they return to the same beach to lay their eggs.
The DoE monitors all the nesting beaches on all three islands. Part of its monitoring process is to walk the beach and look for turtle tracks and turtle nests.
They mark when the eggs were laid and return when the hatchlings emerge. They check the hatch rate of the turtles, and any turtles that are trapped in the nest and that emerge in daylight and therefore are at greater risk from predators, are kept safely and then released at night.
“In some countries, they mark out the nest and try to put stakes down and highlight the nest,” said Wood. “It’s not a thing we do in Cayman because we still have the occasional problem with poaching.”
She said one of the biggest threats to the baby turtles is artificial lights, which disorients them when they are trying to make their way into the sea for the first time.
She said whenever there is a popular beach for turtle laying, people who live nearby tend to help out with keeping them safe. “They really love the turtles and they keep an eye out for us,” Wood said.
Turtle nesting season is May to November, although sometimes turtles start laying as early as April.