Little Turtle Miracles on Christopher Columbus Beach

The months of May to November are turtle nesting season here in Grand Cayman. Sea turtles, a symbol of national pride in Cayman, were once abundant here and have since become an endangered species. The average number of nests found during a season is 43 which is down from millions as the Cayman Islands were once the largest rookery for green turtles in the Caribbean. Generally, there are 80-120 eggs per nest. Since 2000, the Department of Environment has been conducting conservation efforts capturing, tagging and releasing turtles to determine population size, migration patterns, growth rates, habitat use and diving behavior. There are four species of Turtles on Grand Cayman: the green sea turtle, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback. The green sea turtles and loggerheads are typically the most predominate nesters each year.

People finding baby turtles in their nestThe DOE begins to monitor the beaches looking for turtle nests during nesting season. When a nest is discovered on the beach it is marked and sometimes enclosed with rocks or beach chairs for protection. We’ve been very fortunate at Christopher Columbus Condos to have several nests on our beach over the years. After finding a nest the DOE then monitors them, and when the approximate time for hatching approaches a DOE employee will carefully dig down into the nest to check the hatching progress. There are usually some eggs that have hatched. These baby turtles are put back into the nest and covered up to await the hatching of the rest of the eggs. We generally get an estimated time that the turtles will actually hatch. However, sometimes we will all gather at the beach for days anticipating the big event!

Person holding baby turtleTurtles hatch at night. When the turtles do hatch they literally erupt out of the nest to the great delight of everyone watching! Hundreds of tiny baby turtles pour out of the nest and hopefully head for the ocean. It is such a treat to see this miraculous occurrence. If you are lucky enough to witness this migration to the ocean you won’t soon forget it!!

The island community in conjunction with the DOE has taken it upon themselves to be “guardians” of nesting turtles and hatchlings. As recommended by the DOE most beachfront condos and property owners will dim their lights at night during nesting season as the lights can scare female turtles away from the beach (which results in them choosing not to nest). Hatchlings also use the moon and star light that bounces off the ocean as their guide to the sea. When bright artificial light is present they tend to get confused and head towards interior land (where they will most likely not survive). Everyone on the island is encouraged to help with conservation efforts, and most of us take it upon ourselves happily to protect our beloved turtles.

Turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea