Cayman’s shores were spared loss of life and property from now-hurricane Michael’s furious winds and seas, but rough weather from the passing storm placed several sea turtle nests along Seven Mile Beach in jeopardy, but swift action from the Department of Environment’s turtle patrol saved hundreds of hatchlings.
With strong winds and waves pounding Seven Mile Beach Monday (08 October), DOE turtle conservation intern Evelyn Denton digs into sand past her elbows to excavate a nest of vulnerable sea turtle hatchlings.
“When there are storm events like this, there are no availability for the water to drain out, and so the hatchlings just drown at the bottom of the nest,” said Ms. Denton.
Ms. Denton told Cayman 27 the DOE was alerted to the potential disaster by the manager of one beachfront property who noticed something amiss.
“They had a nest on their section of beach that was being washed over by the waves, so we figured that we should probably check all of the nests on seven mile beach to make sure that there wasn’t any hatchlings that were out of the eggs in the nest and submerged in the water,” said Ms. Denton.
Ms. Denton, along with turtle patrol volunteers and DOE staffers excavated 15 nests Monday, saving 485 hatchlings from the rising sea surge. Tuesday’s efforts recovered 61 additional hatchlings, bringing the number to more than 500.
Overall, she said the emergency excavations were a success, but sadly, mother nature’s fury was too much for some.
“Two of the nests have been ripped out to sea, so that is really sad, and we had three where most of the hatchlings were already dead inside the nest, but mostly it was a success story and we got them all out,” said Ms. Denton.
With a 1 in 1,000 chance of surviving to maturity, Ms. Denton says these hatchlings need all the help they can get to ensure their survival.
“It’s just important to get as many out there as possible, giving it a good shot at getting back to the beach to nest,” she said.
Ms. Denton said the DOE recovered more than 160 dead hatchlings, but she expects the hatchling death toll to rise as some submerged nests are still inaccessible.
Despite the strong surf, she said one female turtle managed to come ashore to lay a nest Tuesday night undeterred. That nest is above the high water mark and was left where it was found.