During the 2019 turtle-nesting season, the longest one ever recorded, 675 nests were found across all three islands.
This total marked the second highest number of turtle nests found in a year since the Department of Environment began monitoring nests in 1998. In 2017, 689 nests were recorded.
DoE research officer Janice Blumenthal said the department was surprised by the length of the 2019 turtle-nesting season. The first nest of the season was recorded in Grand Cayman on 12 April; the last nest was laid in Little Cayman on 3 Dec., hatched on 9 Feb., and excavated on 15 Feb., she said.
Turtle-nesting season typically lasts from May to November.
“This weekend in Little Cayman, DoE volunteers Lorri Lamb and Marique Cloete excavated the last nest of the 2019 turtle-nesting season,” Blumenthal said.
She said DoE staff and volunteers excavated all the nests after the turtle eggs hatched, to evaluate hatch success and fertility, and to confirm the turtle species in each nest. She said that three of the nests found in Little Cayman were laid by hawksbill turtles, the rarest species that nest in the Cayman Islands.
“During an excavation, volunteers dig into the egg chamber, remove the empty eggshells, and count them to determine how many eggs hatched,” Blumenthal said. “They also break open unhatched eggs to determine if they were fertilised and to examine the development of the embryos; this allows the team to determine if the nest was inundated by waves during the incubation period, and to evaluate the possible influence of other threats.”
Blumenthal said that nests are excavated several days after the eggs hatch, and occasionally a few baby turtles are found to be trapped within the nests. She said one nest in Little Cayman contained one live hawksbill hatchling that the volunteers released.
However, Blumenthal said that with increasing nesting numbers come increasing threats.
“A Turtle Conservation Plan, with provisions aiming to manage artificial lighting in critical sea turtle-nesting habitat and to reduce poaching, driving of vehicles on beaches, and other threats, has undergone public consultation and is currently under consideration by Cabinet,” she said.
Without the 70 volunteers that work with the DoE in its turtle-nesting efforts, Blumenthal said the department couldn’t have monitored this successful year so closely.
“We are extremely grateful to the dedicated volunteers across the three islands who have assisted with turtle monitoring this year. We would never be able to monitor and protect our nesting populations without them,” Blumenthal said.
Turtle nesting statistics for 2019 season
342 green sea turtles
86 green sea turtles
5 green sea turtles
Total: 675 nests