Before the Cayman Islands were acclaimed for their white-sand beaches, duty-free shopping and thriving culinary scene, they were simply the land of turtles. Christopher Columbus was so charmed by the bales of sea turtles he saw around Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — the first two Islands of the trio he stumbled upon in 1503 — that he named his discovery Las Tortugas, a literal Spanish translation of “The Turtles.”
Turning to Turtles
Over the years, the population of sea turtles — green, hawksbill and loggerhead — around the Cayman Islands progressively declined. In the 1600s and 1700s, green sea turtles were caught and kept alive on sea vessels for fresh meat as seafarers travelled around the Caribbean.
By the 1800s, settlers began to inhabit the Islands and lived “off the sea,” relying on fish, conch and turtle for meat. Turtle meat was exported to other Caribbean islands and turtle shells were often sent to Europe to be used in jewellery and other finished products. It wasn’t uncommon to find a polished green sea turtle shell hanging proudly in the home of a Caymanian. By the 1900s, the green sea turtle population was at an all-time low.
Recognising the imminent demise of the green sea turtle population in the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Turtle Centre was established in 1968 with the resolve to safely supply turtle meat for commercial purposes without further depletion of the wild population.
In addition to farming green sea turtles for consumption, the Cayman Turtle Centre began taking steps to actively conserve the population by breeding the turtles at its facility, which sheltered the tiny and vulnerable hatchlings from predators it would otherwise be exposed to in the wild. The turtles would then be released into the waters off Grand Cayman. In the 50 years the Cayman Turtle Centre has been in operation, some 30,000 green sea turtles have been released into the wild, returning years later to lay eggs on the very beach from which they were freed.
The Ocean’s 8
This year, eight lucky little yearlings — one-year-old turtles — were flown to Cayman Brac and released on the south side of the Island with the help of local school children, an experience they will likely never forget. The turtles travelled in VIP-style aboard Cayman Airways’ Twin Otter, adorned with the national airline’s mascot Sir Turtle, whilst under the care and supervision of the centre’s conservation team.
Historically, Cayman Brac has had the least recorded turtle nests reported by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. With the release of these eight turtles and possibly further turtles in years to come, the Cayman Turtle Centre is hopeful for a change in tide for the livelihood of green sea turtles in Cayman Brac.
Whilst walking the beach now through October 31, look out for turtle tracks — referred to as “batabano” — as we are in nesting season.
To learn more about the Cayman Turtle Centre, visit turtle.ky.
Protecting Our Oceans
If we do not act, by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish.
Initiated by the Cayman Turtle Centre, the 3 Plastics a Day movement asks you to spare a few minutes to pick up three plastic items a day — plastic bags, wrappers, cups, straws or anything that you might find and put them where they belong — in the bin!
Join the movement because #3PlasticsADay will not just make a better world, but it will also inspire a new generation to protect our oceans.
Author: Nasaria Budal