First sea turtle sniffer dog deployed on GC beaches

| 11/06/2024 | 5 Comments
Stephanie Gunby and Bell (photo credit: DoE)

(CNS): The Department of Environment and the volunteers with its Marine Turtle Beach Monitoring programme have a new team member this turtle nesting season: Bell, Cayman’s first sea turtle detection dog. DoE Coral Reef Management team member and part-time Turtle Team member Stephanie Gunby has spearheaded a pilot study to train her golden retriever to track hatchlings that have become disoriented due to artificial lighting.

The work is conducted in partnership with the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter, which is providing scent samples, and DoE Enforcement Supervisor Maggie Baldino, who has a background in detection dog training and handling. DoE officials said that work with conservation canines has been successful in other jurisdictions, both with turtle research and other wildlife projects, but Bell may be a first for our region.

This type of detection work is only conducted with specially trained dogs, and pet owners are asked never to let dogs interfere with local wildlife.

Nesting season is well underway, and turtles are engaging in their annual romantic liaisons. The DoE is urging people to keep their distance.

“It’s crucial to remember the importance of giving these magnificent creatures the space they need,” a spokesperson for the department said. “Disturbing mating or nesting sea turtles can disrupt their natural behaviour and impact their reproductive success. By keeping our distance, we help ensure their population remains healthy and thriving.”

Approaching too closely can cause unnecessary stress to turtles that can lead to unsuccessful mating or cause them to abandon nesting sites, which is detrimental to future populations.

Observers should keep a safe distance of 100 feet (30 meters) from nesting or mating turtles and use binoculars or zoom lenses for a closer look without intruding on their space. Anyone who is approached by a turtle or accidentally gets too close should calmly and slowly back away so they are not disturbed.

Disturbing sea turtles is not only harmful but also illegal, as all turtles are endangered and protected under the law. The public is urged to report turtle disturbances or any activity to the Turtle Hotline 938-NEST (938-6378).

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank God. I’d almost given up. Finally, some actual good news. This is one of those issues that the working public doesn’t have the time or energy to worry about, yet is of vital importance.

    We are working on raising families in these desperate times, and I am SO glad to read there are actual conservation warriors out there batting for us.

    THANK you. Thank YOU.

  2. Anonymous says:

    He just looks like the best boy, what a champ!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful idea!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am looking forward to seeing this good boy on my morning walks

  5. Anonymous says:

    Houston…we have a good boy.


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