by Natasha Were
In the Cayman Islands, sea turtle nesting season runs from May through October each year. During these months, more than 300 nests will be dug on various beaches, with around 100 eggs deposited per nest. Around two months later, when the adult females are long gone, the eggs will hatch and the baby sea turtles will crawl their way out of their sandy nest, down the beach and into the ocean. It’s a fascinating natural wonder to experience and a privilege to witness.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that it is an offence to disturb or molest sea turtles in any way. If you are privileged enough to witness a female loggerhead or green-back sea turtle laying eggs, or the hatchlings emerging from the sand, be sure to respect these endangered creatures.
Female sea turtles travel thousands of miles to nest on the same beaches on which they were born. After mating, they wait until nightfall to haul themselves up the beach and dig a chamber in which to deposit their eggs. It’s an arduous task and, if disturbed, they may abandon the effort and instead dump their eggs in the sea, where they will not hatch. It is therefore crucial that sea turtles are not interrupted when nesting.
A sea turtle’s journey up and down the beach to nest their eggs leave distinctive track marks on the sand — known locally as “batabano.” If you notice these tracks, do not rake over them. Instead, call in the location to the Department of Environment so that they can monitor the nest. If you see a sea turtle digging a nest, remain behind her, out of her field of vision and maintain a distance of 15 to 30 feet. Remove any debris or beach furniture from her path. It’s also important to never shine flashlights or take flash photography, as this can temporarily blind and disorient the sea turtle.
Hatchlings begin to emerge 50 to 70 days after nesting occurs. The tiny critters, which are roughly about the size of an Oreo, typically make their appearance after dark when there is less of a chance of them being spotted by predatory birds or fish. Prior to coastal development, hatchlings made their way toward the brightest lights, which were the moon and stars reflecting off the surface of the sea. Nowadays, artificial lights often confuse and disorientate baby sea turtles, causing them to wind up on roads or in condo complexes.
Should you see hatchlings on the beach or on your property, make sure to turn off all artificial lights, that way they can find their way to the sea naturally. Do not be tempted to help hatchlings make their way to the ocean by picking them up. Walking down the beach on their own is a vital process that helps them imprint the location in order to return to it later in life to lay their own eggs.
If you spot any sea turtle nests or sea turtles in trouble in the Cayman Islands, make sure to report it to the Department of Environment’s 24-hour sea turtle hotline at 345-938-NEST.