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Hundreds of Cayman visitors and residents turned out as the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter released 150 turtles into the wild this past weekend in its 32nd Annual Pirates Week Turtle Release.
The event, originally scheduled to take place on Sunday, 11th November had been postponed due to rough seas and conditions which would have been inhospitable for the young turtles.
Organised in conjunction with the Pirate’s Week Committee, the annually anticipated release took place on the shores of the North Sound, directly across from the North Sound Golf Club on Sunday, 18th November at 4pm and saw children and adults clamouring for the chance to release one of the turtles into the sea.
This year’s event featured a significantly higher number of turtles being released than in recent years, largely due to a highly successful nesting season – which saw a record number of eggs laid and an increased hatching rate.
Leading up to the event, guests to the Cayman Turtle Centre and the Pirates Week Office had the chance to enter a raffle to win a spot to release one of 20 turtles, with the remaining turtles being released by lucky spectators chosen on the day itself.
The Cayman Turtle Centre’s release programme, is an important aspect of the organisation’s conservation mandate and has placed over thirty-one thousand green sea turtles into the wild since 1980. The annual event has grown over the years to become one of the most popular features of the Pirates Week calendar.
“Our release programme is dear to our hearts and a central component of our conservation activities as we continue to preserve the Green Sea Turtle population,” said Cayman Turtle Centre Managing Director Tim Adam. “This is a very important event for us, as we are releasing a larger number of turtles than we have in several years.”
“Standing here at the seaside, releasing a fresh group, is the ultimate expression of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s conservation mission,” Mr. Adam said. “As these baby turtles cross the sand, enter the water and start new lives in the sea – it is an awesome moment that gives us hope for the future. Hope that the wild population will continue to grow and flourish with our help. With releases such as this one, the Cayman Turtle Centre is boosting native stocks and helping to rebuild a wildlife population that in the past had become almost completely depleted.”
This year’s release included yearlings and advanced hatchlings. The yearlings were fitted with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags) which are micro transponders encased in a glass case about the size of a large grain of rice. These electronic tags are injected under the skin and can only be detected with a scanner (similar to wand scanners used at the grocery store).
These and other types of tags allow researchers around the world to identify individual animals and better understand migration and nesting patterns. The most recent observational data shows that at least 14 females tagged and released from the Cayman Turtle Centre in the 1980s, have returned to lay their own eggs on Cayman beaches.
Historically, the Cayman Islands boasted one of the largest green sea turtle populations in the Caribbean and possibly the world. Indeed there were so many turtles that upon discovery of the Islands in 1503 Christopher Columbus named them ‘Las Tortugas’. However, from as early as the Seventeenth Century, this natural resource had become commercially extinct and by 1900, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had deemed this population to be extinct in the Cayman Islands.
Today, according to the Department of Environment, there are less than thirty adult female green sea turtles nesting in the Cayman Islands each year. To this end, one objective of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s release programme is to help replenish the local population of reproducing green sea turtles.
As part of the release programme, turtles are quarantined and reviewed for any disease or defect before release. Yearlings also take part in a process known as “headstarting” which prepares them for life in their natural habitat by replicating conditions in the wild prior to their release.
Recent studies by the Cayman Turtle Centre of satellite-tagged released turtles show them adapting well to their new habitat and roaming widely throughout the Caribbean region.
Since Hurricane Michelle decimated the Cayman Turtle Centre’s breeding stock in 2001, the Centre has been working to grow its turtle population and is now reaching the point where increased numbers of turtles can be released into the wild each year.
People who couldn’t be at Sunday’s event in person can join the “virtual” turtle release event on the Cayman Turtle Centre’s Research and Conservation Facebook page to view photos and video of the event.
To take part in future turtle releases or to find out more about sponsorship opportunities call the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter on 949-3894, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.turtle.ky