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Turtles still challenged but nest numbers steady

Turtles still challenged but nest numbers steady

(CNS): Over 300 turtle nests were identified by Department of Environment staff during this year’s turtle nesting season on Grand Cayman, with a combined total of more than 400 on all three islands, slightly down on the 2015 figures but given seasonal fluctuations, experts believe there is a steady upward trend. DoE Research Officer Janice Blumenthal told CNS that there were several reasons why turtle nests are increasing but she warned that increasing poaching and problems with light pollution are still presenting challenges for the endangered species.

Blumenthal said that the increased protection of adult turtles on nesting beaches by DoE conservation officers and volunteers has helped the population, as had more than eight years of legislative protection that has prevented adult turtles from being caught in a legal fishery.

She said that the DoE is beginning to identify green turtles that were released from the Cayman Turtle Farm in the 1980s coming back to nest on local beaches. The DoE is also seeing an increase in the loggerheads, she said.

Despite the healthy number of nests, Blumenthal warned that because each turtle lays more than one nest per season, the number of individual turtles in the nesting population is still very small and they are facing ever-increasing threats. Despite the laws in place, poaching remains a problem and there were several poaching incidents reported this year where adult female green turtles were taken from the beaches.

“Light pollution is now one of the most serious threats to turtle populations,” Blumenthal said. “Most nests are now on developed beaches, and without protection from the effects of artificial lighting our populations may not be able to continue their recovery.”

The recovery is impressive given the dire circumstances at the end of the 20th century, when the DoE began beach monitoring and found less than 30 nests. But it is still fragile and the DoE staff and teams of volunteers who walked over 1,400 miles to document the turtle season for 2016 know that there is still a lot of work to do to sustain the recovery.