Turtle hotline saves disoriented loggerhead babies

| 11/07/2018 | 16 Comments
Cayman News Service

Disoriented baby turtles (Photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): An intern at the Department of Environment was able to rescue a number of baby loggerhead turtles in the early hours of Tuesday morning thanks to a report from the public that the tiny turtles were heading the wrong way. At this time of year baby turtles are emerging from their nests all along the Cayman Islands’ beaches but artificial lighting poses a major threat to their survival. At 2:30am on Tuesday, DoE intern Lucy Collyer answered the DoE Turtle Hotline (938-NEST) and learned that a group of endangered loggerhead turtles were following lights away from the sea.

The DoE said that every nesting season the researchers record many similar “hatchling misorientations”, where beachfront lights attract the newly hatched turtles away from the ocean. On this occasion, thanks to the call, Collyer was able to get to the location, where she could rescue and release the hatchlings. But in many other cases they die from exhaustion, dehydration, vehicles or predators before they are found, and even if they reach the sea, lights can interfere with their orientation and survival.

The department has been working hard to promote turtle-friendly lighting, which is a proven solution that meets the needs of beachfront property owners and residents without leading baby turtles away from the sea.

The DoE has been working with beachfront property owners, developers, architects, electrical contractors and other local companies to introduce turtle-friendly lighting across the Cayman Islands in a bid to reduce the number of turtle casualties, which undermines the conservation efforts to protect the critically endangered species.

Saving disoriented babies is only one of the jobs turtle researchers at the DoE are doing during the season. Recently Collyer and her colleague, Morgan Ebanks, and volunteer Lorri Lamb excavated a nest of hatchings and discovered a possible hybridization of a loggerhead and a hawksbill sea turtle.

The researchers stated that loggerheads typically have five scutes on the left and right sides of their shell, while hawksbills typically have four. Some of the hatchlings discovered yesterday had four scutes, some had five scutes, and some had four on one side and five on the other. Genetic samples have been taken from the hatchlings and the DoE is waiting on the results.

The department explained on its Facebook page that when two different species mate and produce offspring, the offspring are called hybrids, which is thought to be a rare occurrence for sea turtles on Caribbean nesting grounds. It has been suspected in only a few nests over the past 20 years here in Cayman.

The case is important because fossil and genetic data suggests that the family of marine turtles, Cheloniidae (green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle and the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle), diverged from a common ancestor at least 10 million years ago. They may be among the oldest vertebrate lineages capable of producing viable hybrids in nature.

“While hybridization in some families is a part of the evolutionary history of some fauna, it remains unknown whether or not such phenomena with sea turtles are natural or human-caused. Perhaps anthropogenic causes like habitat alteration and destruction and reduced population size have increased opportunities for interspecific hybridization,” the DoE stated.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (16)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A world class civil service. We are very grateful..

  2. Common Sense isn't so common says:

    Here’s a solution and no need to work with different bodies to accomplish turtle-friendly lighting installations.

    Make it mandatory and planning law backed to have turtle-friendly lighting as the only approved lighting if you are to put them up where it can interfere with hacklings. Easy and done.

    • Anonymous says:

      Poor fool that thinks they can enforce that????

      • Common Sense isn't so common says:

        Well, that’s easy too. Enforcement would be done the same way as you do for all Planning permissions and approvals for foundation, electrical, roof, certain enclosures, etc, etc, etc. Duh!

        • Popeye says:

          And………. keep in mind, it is very easy to tell the difference between lights. Turtle lights (red), and ordinary white lights. Even a fool can see the difference between white and red. Even I can see it!

  3. Cayman Turtle says:

    I would be keen to learn if Planning gave any of Dart projects any conditions to meet this annual event and if so, what mitigating steps were done by the Developer to protect these species.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am no big fan myself, but even I have to admit that the anti-dart comments here on CNS are getting boring now and rarely able to be objective and at least credit Dart when due. In this case, I am aware that Dart has several employees on turtle watch who all seem aware of and promote turtle-friendly lights. So I would hope Dart does this too with their developments.What are you doing to help… eating them?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Good job, they the best tasting ones.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Turn off your lights! Jesus!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    They don’t joke around when it comes to beach lighting in Florida. You play by the rules or you go to court and pay a 25k fine. It is time we got serious about conservation and enforced the same laws here!


  7. Anonymous says:

    Good job!


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