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Annual health survey of breeder turtles at Cayman Turtle Centre

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Annual health survey of breeder turtles at Cayman Turtle Centre
12Feb 2021

The mature turtles of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s Breeder Pond mate and lay their eggs in the sandy “beach” area at the pond side, during their nesting season which lasts from April through to November. These turtles are all very important to the Centre’s conservation programmes, and great care is taken to ensure that they are healthy. Once a year after one nesting season ends, but before another begins, each turtle has to be rounded up and lifted out of the pond to be measured, weighed, and given a health check-up by the Centre’s onsite veterinarians, Dr Vandanaa Baboolal and Dr Francesca Casella.

It takes a long time to check all 280 turtles, this year's operation was spread over nine days; because they are all swimming freely and the pond they live in is large and deep. They are also very heavy, weighing from around 190 to as much as 540 pounds each, so they have to be lifted out using a crane and a sturdy steel-framed box with an opening door. Once inside the box, our veterinarians can perform individual physical exams. 

Sparky is still the heaviest and the biggest turtle in size in our breeding pond, weighing in at 540lbs with a shell that measures 125cm in length. Our females were a little overweight during the survey because they are getting ready to lay their eggs for the new season but all of the turtles surveyed were in good condition and had maintained very similar weights compared to last year.

The Centre’s Turtle Husbandry Manager, Jerris Miller, said: “We measure each one of them, the length and the width, the veterinarians give them a medical checkup and we put them back into the breeder pond. We want to make sure they are maintaining healthy weights and so we compare last year’s weights and numbers to this year’s. We keep our statistics together so we can see how individual turtles grow.” 

Of course, it is good to make sure each of the turtles is fit and healthy. But it also serves the purpose of an auditor’s inventory-count, as well as being a valuable and unique source of scientific data, for those who are engaged in studies of Green turtles. 

Cayman Turtle Centre is one of a tiny handful of turtle conservation facilities in the world, where data on Green sea turtles at every stage of their lifecycle are available. “We can go back over 20 years with very accurate records,” Mr Miller said. “It is an invaluable database, to better help in understanding Green sea turtles,”

The mature breeding turtles in the Centre’s breeding pond are a major part of the facility’s conservation programmes, which includes the release of turtles into the wild. More than 33,000 turtles have been released into the sea through the Centre’s hatchling and head-starting release programmes. This has been proven to be effective through an independent Darwin Plus study, headed by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, University of Barcelona and the University of Exeter. This study showed that no less than 90% of the wild Green sea turtles nesting in Cayman are genetically related to the Centre’s breeding stock.