For the 4th consecutive year, the Department of Environment’s nesting beach monitoring programme has recorded more than 400 turtle nests.
The DOE has been keeping a close eye on turtle nesting for more than 20 years. Since the inception of its monitoring programme back in 1998, the DOE has documented a ten-fold increase in turtle nest numbers.
This year’s total of 406 nests across all three islands represents the 4th consecutive year of 400-plus nests, and the continuation of the long-term upward trend.
But the 2018 total fell shy of last year’s record-setting tally of more than 680 nests.
The DOE told Cayman 27 that’s likely due in part to cyclical fluctuations.
“Each turtle doesn’t nest every year, so when you have a low year it is often followed by increase in numbers the following year,” said DOE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal.
She told Cayman 27 while this year’s turtle nesting numbers failed to surpass a record-setting 2017, the long-term increase in nesting since 1998 is remarkable.
“When the DOE started our nesting beach monitoring, the nesting populations were thought to be extinct or nearly extinct. We started the monitoring in the sister islands because that is where we felt the population had the best chance of persisting, we only found 15 nests in Little Cayman in the first year of monitoring, and one nest in Cayman Brac,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
In 1999 the DOE began monitoring turtle nesting in Grand Cayman and recorded just 23 nests.
“We have seen a very significant increase in turtle nesting numbers. We make every effort to keep our monitoring consistent so that we can be confident that it is a true increase in nesting numbers,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
And while she told Cayman 27 the nesting numbers have increased through the years, the threats these endangered turtles face are also on the rise.
“We know that our populations can’t continue to survive and increase if we don’t address some of the threats, particularly poaching of nesting turtles, and artificial lights on the beach,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
She told Cayman 27 sargassum influx has emerged as a new nesting threat, as it can deprive nests of oxygen and smother eggs and hatchlings inside. Heavy equipment used in sargassum removal can also crush nests entirely.
“Before any heavy equipment or vehicles are operated on the beach, we ask people to contact the Department of Environment so that we can advise on turtle nesting,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
236 nests were found in Grand Cayman, 110 were found in Little Cayman, and 60 in Cayman Brac, a record for the Brac.
Another encouraging find: Hawksbill nests on Little Cayman. The DOE said Hawksbill nesting was once thought to be extinct in the Cayman Islands.