Most Read Contributor in Cayman Islands, September 2016
Recently while on patrol, Department of Environment (DoE) Chief
Conservation Officer Mark Orr discovered signs indicating that a
nesting green turtle was taken illegally in West Bay. The adult
female green turtle apparently was dragged off when she came onto
the beach to lay eggs.
'This incident was discovered on 6 October. This summer, DoE
volunteers also discovered parts of a slaughtered loggerhead turtle
in North Side', Mr Orr said. 'We don't believe these
are isolated incidents; we believe other, undetected incidents have
also taken place'.
DoE staff say that results from new and ongoing research show
the urgency of reducing the illegal take of green turtles from
Cayman's small nesting population. The research involves a
night-time tagging project, funded by the UK Darwin Initiative and
launched in June 2014, and a daytime beach monitoring programme
that began in 1999.
By cross referencing the new night-time tagging data with
information gleaned from the department's longstanding daytime
monitoring efforts, the DoE is now refining estimates of the number
of green turtles in the nesting population, and better estimating
the contribution of the Cayman Turtle Farm to wild nesting
populations, with the goal of protecting nesting turtles.
The purpose of the daytime monitoring is to establish the number
of turtle nests laid each year, in order to indicate population
trends. Female green turtles can each lay up to six nests per
season; and they typically nest every two to three years, rather
than every year.
DoE Research Officer Dr Janice Blumenthal noted that serious
concerns for the population are warranted despite the increase in
nest numbers since 1999, when daytime monitoring of beaches in
Grand Cayman commenced.
'We've seen an increase from a low of only one nest in
1999, to a high of 181 nests in 2012', she said.
However, while the daytime monitoring establishes the number of
nests each year, it only provides one side of the story – it
does not allow a precise determination of the number of females
nesting. This is where the tagging of turtles proves useful.
'The true number of turtles nesting each year in Grand
Cayman was unknown until the Department began its Darwin-funded,
night-time tagging programme', Dr Blumenthal said.
'We know that the 131 green turtle nests found in Grand
Cayman so far this year were not laid by 131 turtles', she
explained. 'Our challenge was to tag and individually identify
nesting green turtles to determine how many females laid these
DoE staff and volunteers tagged 21 green turtles in 2014 and,
while the research is ongoing, preliminary results suggest that
these turtles represent the vast majority of this year's green
turtle nesting population, with each turtle laying up to six
This indicates that the illegal take of turtles poses a serious
problem, because the overall population size is extremely low.
'It's clear from our preliminary results that populations
are even smaller than previously thought, and thus more vulnerable
to threats such as illegal take', Dr Blumenthal said.
She pointed out that losing even one turtle means six fewer
nests – and, as turtles lay more than 100 eggs per nest, this
means 600 fewer eggs in that turtle's nesting year. This
reduction affects the population for every year that the turtle
could have continued to nest.
Mr Orr said that, because of the very low numbers of nesting
turtles on our beaches, DoE considers illegal take of turtles to be
one of the most serious conservation offences. Past cases of this
nature have resulted in fines and prison sentences, and any
equipment including vehicles and boats used in the offence may be
confiscated by the courts.
Anyone with information regarding illegal take of turtles is
asked to make a report to Mr Orr by calling 916-4271; 911; or Crime
Stoppers at 800–TIPS.
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