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Head-starting: What It Is, and How It Helps

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Head-starting: What It Is, and How It Helps
21Apr 2022

Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre utilizes a conservation technique called head-starting to give our yearling Green sea turtles their best shot at survival in the wild. This strategic process begins with our conservation team raising young, endangered turtles so they can grow larger before being released. This gives them the best chance to make it out in the ocean as they are released at a size that helps eliminate most of their natural predators in the wild.

Here’s what the head-starting process looks like at CTCEC:

  • Juvenile turtles ranging from 6 to 8 months old are selected from our breeding program to be part of our head-started release initiative.
  • They each undergo a health check followed by a period of quarantine.
  • After quarantine, each turtle is re-evaluated and has a thorough health check by our specialist veterinary team.
  • Before being released, our head-started turtles are fitted with a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag, similar to microchipping a pet, so that they can be tracked if they ever come back to our shores.
  • At this point they are over one year old and ready to be released from one of Grand Cayman’s many sandy beaches that we hope they may return to nest on in the future.

Without head-starting, only one in every 1,000 turtle hatchlings would survive independently. Our head-starting program has been proven to protect juvenile turtles, while allowing for proper development.

Comprehensive studies have shown that over 90% all of the nesting wild Green sea turtles in Cayman waters are genetically related to those from our Centre. This scientific evidence confirms that the released turtles are returning to nest in the Cayman Islands, demonstrates that “head-started” turtles do assimilate into a natural environment, and proves that reintroductions are critical to helping turtle populations recover.

Want to be a part of the head-starting process? At Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre, we offer the chance to sponsor a turtle release. You can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience that bolsters the sea turtle population. Sponsors get to name one of our juvenile head-started turtles and even witness its release. All funds raised through turtle sponsorship, adoption and donations go directly to help our turtle conservation efforts.

To learn more about becoming a sponsor, contact sponsorship@turtle.ky today!