The Department of Environment is advising the public not to light unapproved bonfires on beaches after some fires were found to have been set close to turtle nests.

The DoE, on Tuesday, reminded members of the public that they must apply for permission to light bonfires from the Department of Environmental Health, as it raised concerns about the threat posed to the safety of turtle nests and hatchlings.

“Bonfires present a serious risk as nest numbers increase, and already this year in at three least incidents DoE staff and volunteers have seen evidence of fires being built extremely close to turtle nests,” DoE marine research officer Janice Blumenthal told the Cayman Compass Tuesday.

With the turtle nesting season in full swing, Blumenthal said it is imperative that the public do its part to protect Cayman’s turtles and their nests.

“Incidents involving turtles and bonfires are rare, but they can have devastating consequences,” she said.

This pictures shows some of the burnt turtle hatchlings that were killed in a bonfire in 2015 on a South Sound beach. – Photo: DoE

The DoE, in a Facebook post on the issue Tuesday, said turtle eggs can be destroyed, and baby turtles can be killed by unapproved beach bonfires.

“In 2015, DoE volunteers made the heartbreaking discovery of dozens of tiny turtle hatchlings that were charred in a fire after being attracted to the glowing embers. Bonfires can also overheat eggs and prevent them from hatching,” the DoE said.

Blumenthal said, to date, that incident in 2015 was the only known instance of hatchling turtles being killed in a fire. It happened on a South Sound beach.

Prior to that incident, Blumenthal said in 2011 a fire that was built directly on top of a nest affected its hatchings.

Turtle eggs incubate for approximately two months under the sand, the DoE said, which makes it difficult to tell by looking at a beach if there are any nearby turtle nests.

Bonfires require permits from the Department of Environment Health and, as part of this process, the DoE said it is consulted about turtle nest locations so that suitable sites can be identified.

Blumenthal urged the public to be responsible when holding bonfires on the beach and follow the right steps for the safety of the turtles.

“We believe that it is possible to hold beach bonfires safely in areas where there is no turtle nesting, but it is crucial to apply for permission from the Department of Environmental Health. Applying for permission for beach bonfires allows precautions for human health and safety to be applied and allows DoE the opportunity to advise on turtle nesting so that nests can be protected,” she said.

To apply for a bonfire permit application, click here.

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