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Did you know that nearly all species of sea turtles are classified as endangered? Besides being beloved, gentle creatures of the sea, sea turtles are also essential to our marine ecosystems.
Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre has been saving Green sea turtles since 1968! When the Cayman Islands Department of Environment began its turtle nest surveys in 1999, they found just a handful of nests. In 2020 there were more than 500! What is more, a recent study showed that 9 out of 10 turtles nesting in Grand Cayman were related to those that had been released from the Centre in previous years.
But we cannot protect Green sea turtles alone, and new development, the removal of traditional habitats, and degradation of feeding grounds mean there is more pressure on turtle populations than ever. Together we can contribute to the protection and welfare of sea turtles and other marine wildlife. Some of it can even be done from the comfort of your home!
Here are five different ways that you could help to save sea turtles today.
Every nesting season, thousands of turtle hatchlings, here in the Cayman Islands, break the surface of their sandy nests and take their first full gulp of salty, sea air as they use the moonlight reflecting off of the waves to make their way to the water. Unfortunately, many of those adorable hatchlings become disoriented by artificial lights on land. This can cause them to head in the wrong direction where they can be at risk from land-based predators, vehicles, or simply from exhaustion, starvation, or dehydration. Other times, the hatchlings that make it to the shore can become dazed and begin swimming in circles, becoming an easy meal for underwater predators waiting in shallow waters. The easiest fix for this issue is turtle-friendly lighting.
While complete darkness is the optimal way to help protect sea turtles from light pollution, simply changing your fluorescent bulbs to red bulbs and turning off needless lighting is also sufficient. Although it is not required by law, red lighting is highly recommended and rapidly becoming an approval requirement when building new properties and docks along the shoreline in Cayman.
Why red lighting? Sea turtles mainly see blue, yellow, and green colors, much like the colours underwater. Because of this, the red lights are not seen as well as fluorescents. A light source as small as a flashlight can completely turn a hatchling off-course and into harm’s way. Red lighting also does not bleach our photopigment that humans depend on for visibility in the dark. Red lights are a fair compromise to ensure the safety of both humans and turtles alike.
Learn more about the Cayman Islands Department of Environment’s guidelines for turtle-friendly lighting here.
From nest to release, the Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre works diligently on the conservation and rehabilitation of many species of wildlife, primarily focusing on Green sea turtles. You could be a part of this cause today by adopting your very own turtle! You can give it any name of your choice and receive a special certificate authenticating your adoption. You will also receive regular updates on your turtle’s development from hatchling to maturity. Your contribution helps the further research and protection of these beautiful creatures.
We currently have 3 different adoption packages to choose from: hatchlings, head-started turtles, and mature breeding turtles. The hatchlings available to adopt are hatched at our very own Breeding Pond. Each nest contains approximately 100 eggs so there are plenty of unnamed little ones waiting to be adopted!
Our head-started turtles are our juveniles, about 1-2 years old. When released at this age, juvenile turtles have a much higher chance of survival in the wild.
Our third adoption package is our mature breeding turtles that live in the Green’s Breeding Pond at Cayman Turtle Centre. These mature Green sea turtles give us our own unique way to study and conserve sea turtles in the safety of our facility so that we may help increase the wild population.
Another fun way to participate in our turtle conservation efforts is to sponsor a turtle release. When you become a sponsor, you can enjoy a once in a lifetime experience. Not only does a sponsor name one of our juvenile head-started turtles but you can also participate in a ceremony, experience a unique opportunity of touching a sea turtle, and be witness to its release firsthand. All funds raised through turtle sponsorship, adoption, and donations go directly to helping CTCEC with our Green sea turtle conservation efforts.
One of the biggest threats to sea turtles is plastic waste in the ocean. Studies have shown that 52% of the world’s sea turtles have consumed plastic waste in their lifetime. Something as seemingly harmless as a Ziplock bag can be mistaken for a food source turtles usually consume, such as jellyfish. Mature sea turtles and their hatchlings often crawl through garbage on land or become entangled in it while swimming. This can cause them injury or even death. If the current pattern continues, there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish by 2050.
We must all do our part to reduce plastic waste and stop it from getting into the ocean. Something as simple as picking up three pieces of plastic a day can make a big difference. Although this may seem insignificant, the more people picking up those three pieces of garbage a day, the bigger the impact.
At Cayman Turtle Centre, we have taken Plastic Free Cayman’s “345 Pledge” to eliminate the use of single-use plastics across the park. Another way you can help is to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” and so make less waste for the environment. A great way of doing this is to take a reusable shopping bag when you go to the supermarket or use a refillable water bottle instead of buying disposable plastic bottles. We are all in this together, so let’s do our best for the turtles, and for the planet too!
Lastly, with the help of your generous donations, we can continue our research and conservation efforts to help save Green sea turtles. We appreciate your generosity and every penny you donate goes towards the release of Green sea turtles into the wild. Whatever size of donation you make, it makes a real difference to help this endangered species.
The biggest step in helping to save sea turtles starts with you. Sea turtles are important to both our marine ecosystems as well as our coastline ecosystems and both would fail if they went extinct. Things as simple as reducing plastic waste or turning lights off at night during nesting season will make a huge difference.
Donations, turtle sponsorships, and adoptions all help us in our conservation and research efforts to protect these beautiful animals as well. One person can make a difference in saving sea turtles and that one person could be you!
For more information and to see these gentle, ancient creatures up close and personal be sure to visit the Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.