November 18, 2019

Historic turtles released in Cayman Brac

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The Cayman Turtle Centre has made history by releasing eight yearling green sea turtles into the wild for the first time in .

Government leaders, local residents and island visitors gathered at the South Side public beach on Friday, 23 March 2018 to witness the turtles make their way out into the open sea to join the 31,000-plus turtles already released by the centre.

The event was facilitated by the Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, while the turtles were transported by Cayman Airways.

The turtles were flown in water-filled tubs, and then carried by the Turtle Centre’s conservation team to the water’s edge to start their journey into the wild.

Dignitaries who attended were Deputy Premier and Tourism Minister, Hon. Moses Kirkconnell; Minister and Cayman Brac East Elected Member, Hon. Juliana O’Connor-Connolly; Chief Officer Stran Bodden, Councillor Barbara Conolly; Sister Islands District Commissioner Ernie Scott; Deputy District Commissioner Mark Tibbetts, Cayman Airways President and  Fabian Whorms. Along with students from Layman E. Scott High School, they released the sea turtles one-by-one.

“It was a significant moment, not only for Cayman Turtle Centre, but for the long and rich history of Cayman Brac, whose first settlers depended on the turtles for their survival,” said Turtle Centre Managing Director Tim Adam. “This year the centre is celebrating half a centre of turtle conservation success.”

The released turtles are part of the Turtle Centre’s “head-start” programme, which is a well-established turtle conservation technique that involves growing the tiny hatchling turtles to a size where they are able to remain safe from all but the fiercest predators.

“Cayman Brac and turtles go back a long way,” said Mr. Adam. “When Christopher Columbus first saw Cayman Brac and Little Cayman he officially named them ‘Las Tortugas’, the Spanish words meaning ‘The Turtles’, because of the abundance of turtles in the sea all around them. Today, turtles are recognised as such an important part of our islands’ history that they appear on our bank notes, on our flag and on the tails of Cayman Airways planes.”

Fragile hatchlings have only about a one-in-a-thousand chance of survival, but year-old turtles are much less vulnerable, so a large percentage are expected to survive until adulthood. They then return to the beach from which they were released to lay their eggs in about 20 or 25 years’ time.

“Conservation has always been at the heart of all we do,” Mr. Adam added. “The turtle nest surveys undertaken annually by the Department of the Environment have revealed more than a sevenfold increase in the numbers of green sea turtle nests around Grand Cayman when we compare the five-year average ending 2004, to the five-year average ending 2017. More recently, the UK-funded Darwin Plus Initiative has shown that that a minimum of 50 per cent of the genetic material of nesting turtles in Cayman is attributable to those released from this one-of-kind facility.”

There are two facilities in the Cayman Islands where endangered, reptiles are captive-bred, head-started, and released to the wild. One is the Cayman Turtle Centre and the other is the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, in which they breed and release the country’s native .

For every released turtle, the Turtle Centre follows (with full-time veterinary oversight) an enhanced version of the pre-release quarantine and health-evaluation protocols already approved by the Department of Environment for Blue Iguanas released from the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Released turtles are typically healthier than their wild counterparts because of the highly nutritious, scientifically planned diet, which has been developed by the centre over many years. It is the inclusion of not only the right level of protein, but vital trace-elements and vitamins, which help the turtles with their “head start”.

“Our nation’s motto is ‘He hath founded it upon the seas’, so, this is really our way of ‘giving back’ to the seas, and the turtle population, after they have sustained us for so long,” said Mr. Adams.

For more information, call the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter on 949-3894, email us at [email protected], visit us on-line at www.turtle.ky orwww.caymanturtlecentre.ky, or find us on Facebook at Facebook/CaymanTurtle.

PHOTOS BY: Jamie Hicks, GIS  For more photos on the release visit our Cayman Islands Government Facebook page album by clicking here à http://bit.ly/2GjTxy0

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