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It is turtle nesting time in the Caymans

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It's turtle time again. While diving over the last few weeks, a turtle or two has been spotted swimming along the ocean floor or taking a turtle nap in the sea grass.

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Not only are the turtles enjoying the warm and coral-filled waters off the Southeast coast of the United States, but all across the Caribbean, they are deciding where they will stop and take refuge in order to nest and hatch their young.

A couple of weekends ago, Little Cayman had some crawling visitors. Over the July 4th weekend, it was turtle nesting time in Little Cayman. The Cayman community was ecstatic on the arrival. Volunteers from the Southern Cross Club and the local community, welcomed the new arrivals as the first nest hatched. All eyes turned to the baby turtles as they slowly oriented themselves for the first time and made their way towards the big ocean to begin what is sure to become a perilous journey to adulthood.

Witnessing this event was not only special, but rare as well. This was the first nesting of the season and received in an outstanding way. All the volunteers had their eyes focused on making sure that the shrubs did not hinder the path of the young hatchlings. Every Monday, the Southern Cross Club organizes a beach walk to monitor the beaches, clear any trash and debris from the beaches and keep an eye out for the nests. It is all part of the Cayman Government's Turtle Conservation Program. The participation is always quite good on the small island and includes beachfront homeowners and residents who work at the local resorts. Everyone does their part and beachfront homeowners know that they need to keep their lights dim at night from May through November.

“It’s incredibly difficult to catch a nest hatching - we were very lucky because it is such a special thing!” says Jennifer Mills, general manager of the Southern Cross Club and long time turtle watch volunteer. Mills says they had an idea that the Loggerhead nest might hatch on Saturday night, July 5th, and although their prediction was right, by the time they arrived on site most of the baby turtles had left and only four remained. “We could tell from the tiny tracks that those that had already hatched had made it safely to the sea.” The volunteers report their finds by calling the Sea Turtle Hotline 345-938-NEST (938-6378). New turtle nests are marked and protected. Mills says volunteer response this year has been outstanding.

Just prior to the nesting season, the Southern Cross Club and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute organized a cleanup to get the beaches in top shape in preparation of the nesting season which may bring any or all of the species which are the green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback, to Little Cayman.

All the ongoing effort has resulted in 30 turtle nests being marked and protected in Little Cayman. The Department of Environment conservation program raises awareness on all three islands and educates the public on what needs to be done to protect the turtle which is making a comeback after almost becoming extinct because of commercial fishing. You might say that eco-tourism is becoming more popular on Little Cayman which is crucial to the turtle's existence.

With an officer of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, Jennifer Mills and the other Little Cayman volunteers returned in a few days to excavate the nest that hatched over that weekend and counted the shells to see how many turtles hatched. Their duty is to rescue and release any baby turtles that may have hatched late and remove the eggs that didn’t develop. All this information will be recorded for the conservation program so statistics can be kept and measured.

While sea turtles are making a comeback in Cayman, the overall worldwide population of the highly migratory turtles is either endangered or threatened. The actions of volunteers on the beaches of Little Cayman contribute to the survival of the species, and the recovery of this beloved symbol of the Cayman Islands, also part of a shared Caribbean heritage. These little hatchlings that make it to adulthood will once again visit this same Cayman beach and continue the life cycle by making their nests in the very same area and thus the process begins all over again. Aren't the wonders of nature grand?

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