The first wild green turtle nest of the 2020 turtle nesting season was recorded along Seven Mile Beach this week, the Department of Environment reported.
DoE marine research officer Janice Blumenthal welcomed the discovery, which happened Monday, but said she remains cautious on declaring the official nesting season for green sea turtles open.
“Higher sea temperatures may lead to earlier nesting, but it is too early to know whether there will be an earlier start to the green turtle nesting season this year or whether this was an isolated early nest,” she said in response to Cayman Compass queries via email.
“Outlying early nests are more likely in seasons where there are a large number of turtles nesting, so we hope 2020 will be very successful,” she added.
Typically, the green turtle nesting season begins in mid-to-late June and peaks in August, she said.
“During the past 21 years of DoE Grand Cayman sea turtle monitoring, only two other green turtle nests were found in May,” she said.
Nests from another species of sea turtle have already been found since the DoE’s beach monitoring began on 1 May.
“To date, the team of DoE staff and volunteers have documented 38 loggerhead nests across the three islands. All sea turtle monitoring activities have been carried out under approved exemptions and following the prescribed social distancing protocols,” she said.
Last year, the DoE recorded Cayman’s longest nesting season, during which 675 turtle nests were found.
It was second highest number of turtle nests found in a year since the department began its monitoring programme in 1998. In 2017, 689 nests were recorded.
Last year, the first nest of the season was discovered 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.
Blumenthal said the COVID-19 restrictions have been a positive for the turtles as there are fewer people on the beaches.
“We’ve seen some evidence that they may be nesting in different places, [some] that are usually too busy,” she said.
The DoE, Blumenthal said, is researching the overall impact the restrictions have had on the turtles and expects to release that information soon.
The species of nesting turtle can be determined by examining the tracks and pits left in the sand, she said.
“This identification is confirmed when the nest is re-examined after the hatching event has taken place. When crawling on the beach, nesting green turtles move their flippers at the same time, as if they are swimming breast stroke, and they leave a straight, symmetrical track in the sand,” she said.
This is how the DoE was able to identify the new nest this week.
“Loggerhead turtles move their flippers alternatively, as if they are swimming front crawl, and they leave asymmetrical tracks in the sand. Green turtles also take longer to nest and they leave deeper pits and larger mounds of sand as they camouflage the location of their eggs,” Blumenthal said.
She is calling on the public to report turtle nests or tracks by sending a photo and a detailed location description via WhatsApp to the DoE Turtle Hotline at 938-NEST (938-6378) or by emailing [email protected].