Loggerheads break nest record

Slow season for green sea turtles, no hawksbill nests found

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchlings in Cayman Islands
Loggerhead hatchlings make a break for it on Little Cayman after emerging from their nest. – Photo: Joe Roche, DoE

While Cayman’s loggerhead turtle nesting season ended with a record-breaking 343 nests registered across all three islands, green sea turtles have not fared as well, with the Department of Environment noting a drop in the numbers for that species this year.

Out of a total of 474 nests for all types of turtles across all three islands, only 131 green sea turtle nests have been recorded for 2021 thus far, down from a record high of 353 for greens last year.

However, DoE Research Officer and Sea Turtle Programme Manager Jane Hardwick, in a recent interview with the Cayman Compass, said that dip in numbers is not a cause for concern.

High hopes for turtles

“The loggerhead nesting season is about to finish and the green nesting season is still continuing. So far we are similar to our 2018 numbers, which was a low year, but we did expect that, because last year was such a big, big year for them and it’s not the same females that come back every year. So we’re not really worried that it’s a low year,” she said.

DoE Research Officer and Sea Turtle Programme Manager Jane Hardwick. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

The bump in loggerhead nests, she said, marks a “really good season” for the species as this year’s high number of nests has surpassed the 2017 record of 332.

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“That’s really promising… In Cayman Brac, they’ve had a really, really good season,” Hardwick said. “They normally get between 40 and 50 nests a year… this year they’re over 90. So they’ve almost doubled what they usually have.”

The loggerhead season, she said, usually ends in August, but there are still some nests that may produce hatchlings.

The nesting season for greens, however, ends in October, giving that species a bit more time.

Unfortunately, she said, no nests have been recorded this year for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle; in 2020, there were seven confirmed hawksbill nests.

This baby turtle makes its way to the sea. – Photo: Jane Hardwick, DoE

Hardwick said there have been huge turtle-conservation efforts in Cayman for about the last 20 years and while there has been a gradual increase, “what’s important to remember is the number of nests isn’t exactly the same as the number of turtles we have nesting here. So 340 nests doesn’t equal 340 nesting females because each female lays multiple nests a year.”

This means that while turtle numbers are still very low, “as we see an increase in nest numbers that does tell us that we are getting more turtles here”. DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin welcomed the increase in loggerhead nests.

“To see this [conservation effort] come to this today is absolutely superb. Obviously we’ve still got a long way to go. The numbers, though they sound impressive, are still very, very low for what they used to be and turtles still remain very threatened,” he said.

Increasing threat from storms

Hardwick said the DoE is hoping to see the green turtle numbers pick up with Cayman getting a few more nesting turtles.

DoE Research Officer and Sea Turtle Programme Manager Jane Hardwick and DoE deputy director Tim Austin discussing the latest turtle nest numbers. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

“It’s been a bit of a challenge with some of the storms, and we’ve had to relocate quite a lot of nests,” she said, noting that moving nests can affect the hatch. “I’m just hoping for a good hatch success now with all the nests we have,” she added.

Even with an active hurricane season continuing, Austin said, the department has a good handle on moving nests to prevent losses like those seen last year along the coastline due to erosion.

“When we know the scale of the storm and the direction that’s approaching, we’re able to deal with that. So the turtle team, very, very heroically moved… about 34 nests combined with all three storms,” he said adding they “rescued or removed 900 hatchlings that got into the sea safely prior to the storm”.

Hardwick and Austin also stressed the importance of having artificial turtle lighting on properties along the coastline.

They said funding assistance is available for those who need to retrofit their properties or need help to get them installed.

Learn more about the different species of turtle hatchlings in Cayman Islands.

 

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