A baby hawksbill turtle emerges from its egg. Record numbers of nests have been recorded on Little Cayman. -PHOTO: LUCY COLLYER
A record number of turtle nests have been recorded in Little Cayman this year. Researchers have counted 156 nests on the island, so far this nesting season.
The figure represents a tremendous resurgence for turtle populations. In 1998, when the first comprehensive nesting beach monitoring survey was carried out, only 15 nests were found.
Janice Blumenthal, research officer at the Department of Environment, said the numbers reflect a general trend of increasing nesting populations across all three islands.
In Grand Cayman, numbers have also increased from as low as 30 nests in the late 1990s to more than 200 in recent years.
“We are seeing results from better protection of turtles on the nesting beach and from changes in fishery legislation, which prevents adult turtles from being taken,” she said. “We may also be seeing a small contribution from green turtles released from the Turtle Farm in the 1980s.”
Genetic studies will ultimately determine the impact, if any, of turtles released from the farm, colonizing beaches. When turtles reach maturity, they return to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs. Females typically nest between three and six times in a season, from May to November.
The Department of Environment acknowledges that the surge in numbers in Little Cayman could be due in part to increased monitoring.
Lucy Collyer, a turtle conservation intern with the Department of Environment and a master’s degree student, has led a renewed volunteer effort to conduct comprehensive monitoring on the island, which has not taken place for the past few years. Numbers in Grand Cayman also look healthy for the nesting season.
“So far in Grand Cayman, we have had just over 200 turtle nests – with about equal numbers of loggerhead and green turtle nests. The loggerhead nesting numbers are among the highest we’ve seen,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
In Cayman Brac, 34 nests have been recorded, a slight decrease compared to last season.
Despite the general positive trend, Ms. Blumenthal said the population is still “critically small” and the threat from development, beach erosion, and poaching is a growing issue.
“Unfortunately, while nesting numbers are increasing, turtles are also facing increasing threats,” she said. “Illegal take continues to be one of the most serious problems in protecting our nesting population and, unfortunately, nesting female turtles are taken every year.”