A new study published in the Journal of Molecular Ecology is bringing the impact of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s releases from the 1980’s and 1990’s into focus.
The study shows 90% of Cayman’s green sea turtle nesting population shares DNA with the Cayman Turtle Centre’s captive stock.
A six-year genetic study of Cayman’s nesting green sea turtle population shows the impacts of Cayman Turtle Centre’s releases in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
“We were looking at our adult females that have a parent that is currently in the turtle farm, or they also have a sibling or have sibling in the turtle farm, and that allows us to look at family relationships and contribution from the turtle farm into the wild,” said DOE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal.
The study, published this month, revealed that 12% of Cayman’s adult nesting female green sea turtles have a parent-offspring relationship with the Cayman Turtle Centre’s captive breeding stock. 11% have a full-sibling relationship, and 67% have a half-sibling relationship. Another 10% had no relation to the Cayman Turtle Centre.
“We see that green turtles with a genetic connection from the farm are replenishing our wild turtle populations,” said Ms. Blumenthal.
Some 30,000 hatchlings and yearling turtles were released from the Cayman Turtle Centre between 1980 to 2001, according to the study.
The DOE now estimates Cayman’s current population of nesting green sea turtles at no more than 150.
“A large percentage of our nesting females have some familial relation to turtle farm turtles, so that is a huge success story, and I don’t think we can take away from that at all,” said DOE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.
However Ms. Ebanks-Petrie called for an independent evaluation of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s health screening protocols for its current release programme.
“We would like to see those protocols independently evaluated so that should anything happen in the future, we are able to say you know, we understood the risks, it’s about risk, we understand the potential risk and we took every step that we could take to either avoid the risk or to mitigate for it,” said Ms. Ebanks-Petrie at a press event Monday (21 January.)
Cayman Turtle Centre CEO Tim Adam – who was not a participant at Monday’s press event – defended the current pre-release protocols, which he said are based on the DOE-reviewed pre-release protocols for Cayman’s blue iguana.
“The Cayman Turtle Centre’s robust pre-release processes and procedures, with full-time veterinary oversight for breeding, rearing, quarantine, tissue sampling and release are more rigorous than any we have found in the many other organizations around the world engaged in marine turtle conservation and re-introduction programs,” said Mr. Adam.
Mr. Adam told Cayman 27 the study findings show that the Cayman Turtle Centre’s 50 years of conservation work has helped save a species from the brink of extinction.
“That 90% figure speaks for itself,” said Mr. Adam. “It addresses all of the naysayers, all the negativity, and it shows what an amazing result we have been able to achieve and what we continue to do and the importance of continuing to do it.”
It’s important to reiterate that this new study is not an evaluation of the Cayman Turtle Centre’ss current release programme.
The DOE said the levels of genetic diversity in Cayman’s wild population are similar to or higher than other wild populations, but did express some concern about possible out-breeding that may occur in later generations, due to the diverse origins of the initial breeding stock.