The National Conservation Council has voted to redirect $7,000 from its Environment Protection Fund to continue its CCTV turtle monitoring project in West Bay, after a nesting green sea turtle was recently claimed by poachers.

“This is a shame, because the green turtle has a slow start for the year already,” Department of Environment Deputy Director Tim Austin remarked on Wednesday, as he brought the situation to the Council’s attention at their first general meeting since last August.

Austin took a motion to the McFarlane Conolly-led Council to redirect EPF funds earmarked for Turtle Friendly Lighting to be used for the CCTV turtle monitoring contract with Security Centre at the Sand Hole Road, West Bay beach. It was ratified by the Council.

“Poachers are still at it,” Conolly remarked after the motion was approved.

He pointed to the recent report of 195 conch and four lobsters being poached from the Frank Sound Marine Reserve, saying, “unfortunately that is still happening”.

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The poaching incident was unfortunate, DoE Director Gina Petrie-Ebanks agreed.

CCTV funding still being sought

The CCTV camera was initially installed at the most popular nesting site for turtles through Project Turtle Beach, led by Caymanian Michael Ridley, back in 2019.

Tim Austin, deputy director, Department of Environment, brought the motion to redirect the funds for the CCTV camera. Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

That project raised $15,500 to lease a high-tech camera for 24 hour surveillance at a key nesting beach in Boatswains Bay for the duration of turtle nesting season.

Citing the need for humanitarian funding in 2020 and 2021, Austin said “it was not considered appropriate to push for full crowd-funding of the camera installation and private sector video monitoring”.

According to the motion in 2020, the Council approved the transfer of unused EPF money budgeted for Turtle Friendly Lighting to partially pay for the installation and operation of the camera during the peak of the 2020 wild marine turtle nesting season.

“Prior to the camera, there had been multiple poaching attempts per year. In 2019 and 2020, there were no poaching attempts. The camera caught dogs attacking a turtle and enabled Conservation Officers to ensure that the dogs were kept inside at night,” that motion pointed out.

Austin said fundraising for the use of the CCTV turtle monitoring camera will continue, but the redirection of the unutilised funds will be considered a “backstop”.

The 2021 motion stated that the beach must be physically visited by the DOE Turtle Team and Conservation Officers, which is resource intensive.

It noted that the live camera feed and automatic notification features of the camera make it a “powerful deterrent for poaching activity and significantly reduces demands on DOE staff time after hours”.

“The money will be used to contract with the Security Centre for the use of its MAST remote surveillance camera for 4 months (August –November 2021) in the Sand Hole Road area of West Bay, Grand Cayman, when turtle nesting on this beach is at its peak and turtles are therefore most vulnerable to poaching there,” the motion said.

At its workgroup session of 14 July, the Council considered and agreed to this request, pending ratification at the next General Meeting, the motion added.

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