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									     Cayman Islands National Biodiversity Action Plan 2009




                                                                                                                                                   Rev: 19 March 2012
     3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles
     Marine Turtles




                                                                                                                                                                        DIGITALDIVER.NET
Marine Turtles Chelonia mydas, Caretta caretta, Eretmochelys imbricata, Dermochelys coriacea
Taxonomy and Range

      Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Reptilia, Order: Testudines, Family: Cheloniidae
      There are seven living species of marine turtle, four of which have been documented in the Cayman Islands. These are the Green Chelonia
      mydas, the Loggerhead Caretta caretta, the Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, and the Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata.

Status

      Distribution: Circum-global.
      Conservation: Green and Loggerhead Turtles are classified as endangered, while Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles are critically
      endangered (IUCN Red List 2008). Cayman Island nesting: Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtle nesting is critically reduced.
      Leatherback nesting populations have been extirpated. Cayman Islands foraging: Hawksbill and Green Turtle foraging aggregations are
      apparently stable.
            Cayman Island nesting: Green Turtles: 17-26 nesting females. Loggerhead Turtles: 17-26 nesting females. Hawksbill and
            Leatherback Turtles: nesting populations believed to be extirpated.
            Cayman Islands foraging: Hawksbill and Green Turtles: aggregations apparently stable.

For Reference and Acknowledgement: Cottam, M., Olynik, J., Blumenthal, J., Godbeer, K.D., Gibb, J., Bothwell, J., Burton,
F.J., Bradley, P.E., Band, A., Austin, T., Bush, P., Johnson, B.J., Hurlston, L., Bishop, L., McCoy, C., Parsons, G., Kirkconnell, J.,
Halford, S. and Ebanks-Petrie, G. (2009). Cayman Islands National Biodiversity Action Plan 2009. Cayman Islands Government.
Department of Environment. Final Formatting and production by John Binns, International Reptile Conservation Foundation.

                                                    Section: 3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles - Marine Turtles                          Page: 1
    Legal: Marine Turtles are protected under the Marine Conservation Law (Turtle Protection Regulations). The Department of Environment
    is the lead body for protection.

Natural History
    Though the vast majority of their life cycle is spent at sea, female Marine Turtles nest terrestrially, spending approximately 1–3 hours
    on shore. Marine turtle hatchlings swim offshore, entering a period of oceanic drifting known as the “lost years.” Though Leatherback
    Turtles remain primarily oceanic throughout their life cycle, most hard-shell Marine Turtles recruit to nearshore feeding grounds such
    as coral reefs and seagrass beds. These “developmental habitats” are occupied by individuals originating from many jurisdictions. Upon
    nearing maturity, (ca. 20 years of age), turtles leave developmental habitats and move to distant adult feeding grounds. Every few years,
    Marine Turtles travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers from adult feeding grounds to nesting beaches, returning to the areas where
    they were born to breed and nest.
    The Cayman Islands once supported one of the world’s largest green turtle rookeries, as well as abundant nesting by Loggerhead and
    Hawksbill turtles. Every summer, millions of Marine Turtles are believed to have migrated to Cayman Islands to nest, leading to reports
    that “…vessels, which have lost their latitude in hazy weather, have steered entirely by the noise which these creatures make in swimming to
    attain the Caymana isles.” However, by the early 1800s, massive exploitation had caused the Cayman Islands’ nesting populations to crash.
    By the 20th century, the Cayman Islands’ rookeries were considered extinct.

    Systematic monitoring of marine turtle nesting beaches by Department of Environment began in 1998 and revealed that nesting by
    Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles persisted at critically low levels: an annual mean of 26 Green turtle nests, 26 Loggerhead nests,
    and <1 Hawksbill nests. In recent years, a considerable increase in Green and Loggerhead nesting has been observed, with more than 100
    Green turtle nests recorded for the first time in 2008. While numbers remain low, fertilization success averages 81% for Green turtle nests
    and 78% for Loggerhead nests, showing no reduction in fertility relative to larger populations.

    Satellite tracking indicates that Cayman Islands Green Turtles travel to foraging grounds in Central America, Mexico, and the Florida
    keys, with their range encompassing over 2,000 km of the Caribbean coastline and the Florida Keys. This dispersion highlights the
    importance of broad and collaborative marine turtle management and habitat protection. In contrast, Cayman Islands Loggerhead
    Turtles were tracked to foraging habitats in Nicaragua, underscoring the necessity of identifying key habitats and targeting action.

    In addition to supporting nesting populations, the Cayman Islands host foraging aggregations of juvenile Hawksbill and Green turtles,
    inhabiting coral reefs, hardbottom areas, and seagrass beds. Genetic research has shown that juvenile Hawksbill turtles originate from
    nesting beaches spanning the Caribbean basin. For Green turtles, tag returns from the Cayman Turtle Farm show recruitment of captive-
    raised individuals into the wild, but a genetic study has not yet been conducted to evaluate the extent of this contribution

Associated Habitats and Species for Marine Turtles

                  ASSOCIATED HABITAT PLANS                                                ASSOCIATED SPECIES PLANS
 2.M.1 Open sea
 2.M.2 Coral reefs
 2.M.3 Lagoons                                                           Queen Conch Strombus gigas
 2.M.4 Seagrass beds                                                     Spiny Lobsters Panulirus argus
 2.M.5 Dredged seabed                                                    Southern Stingrays Dasyatis americana
 2.S.2 Sandy beach and cobble                                            Nassau Grouper Epinephelus striatus
 2.S.3 Mangrove
 2.S.4 Invasive coastal plants (INVASIVE)
 2.T.7 Urban and man-modified areas

Current Factors Affecting Marine Turtles

      •	 Legal take: under the Turtle Protection Law (1996), some twenty people remain eligible for licenses to catch turtles. The level of sea
         turtle nesting in the Cayman Islands is critically low, and continued legal capture of mature turtles may cause the nesting population
         to become extinct in the near future.
                   Update: In 2008, legislation was amended to prohibit take of mature turtles in Cayman waters.
      •	 Illegal take: reports from enforcement officers and members of the public confirm that illegal take of marine turtles is still occurring
         around all three islands. While prosecutions are made whenever possible, the level of sea turtle nesting in the Cayman Islands is
         critically low, and capture of even a small number of mature turtles could cause extinction of nesting populations or prevent them
         from recovering.

                                   Section: 3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles - Marine Turtles      Page: 2
      •	 Incidental and accidental capture and mortality: incidental mortality arises particularly from ingestion of fish hooks and vessel
         collision.

      •	 Marine debris: entanglement in fishing line and ingestion of plastics contributes to a largely unqualified mortality amongst Marine
         Turtles.

      •	 Habitat loss and degradation: nesting beach habitat has been a primary focus for development since 1960s. Beach erosion and
         artificial lighting have also adversely affected nesting populations. Foraging populations may be impacted by hurricanes and
         anthropogenic degradation of coral reefs and seagrass beds.

      •	 Disease: fibropapillomatosis is a condition characterized by debilitating tumors. This disease has reached epidemic proportions in
         some areas. Locally, fibropapillomatosis is known to affect Green Turtles in North Sound.

Opportunities and Current Local Action for Marine Turtles

    Marine Turtle Beach Monitoring Programme (MTBMP): since 1998 the DoE has been conducting a systematic survey along
    the beaches of the Cayman Islands to identifying signs. During the turtle nesting season of May-October, the beaches of the Cayman
    Islands are patrolled by DoE staff and trained volunteers. Data collected is used to assess the quantity, frequency and distribution of
    nesting, and to aid conservation efforts. The MTBMP has recently expanded to incorporate attaching satellite transmitters to post-
    nesting female turtles and monitoring their movements once they leave the nesting beaches in the Cayman Islands. Movements of
    Cayman sea turtles can be viewed at http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking.

    In-Water Programme: DoE has carried out an intensive in-water monitoring programme since 2000. Throughout the year, sea
    turtles are captured, tagged, and released off the shores of Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, to assess population trends, and determine
    migration patterns, habitat utilisation, demographics, and management needs.

SPECIES ACTION PLAN for Marine Turtles

                                                    OBJECTIVES                                                              TARGET
 1. Continue to monitor the status of nesting populations and ensure that they are protected from extirpation.                 ongoing
 2. Determine the status of, and threats to, foraging populations.                                                             ongoing
 3. Ensure the long-term stability of foraging populations.                                                                    ongoing
 4. Ensure sustained support for the conservation of Marine Turtles through targeted education and awareness
                                                                                                                               ongoing
 programmes.



                              Marine Turtles                                                                                MEETS
                                                                                      LEAD       PARTNERS        TARGET
                           PROPOSED ACTION                                                                                 OBJECTIVE
                                                              Policy & Legislation
 PL1. Pass and implement the National Conservation Law.                              CIG      DoE              2006        1,2,3,4
 PL2. Enact Endangered Species (Trade & Transport) Law in order to fully
                                                                                     DoE      CIG              2006        2,3
 transpose CITES into domestic law.
 PL3. Amend legislation to eliminate capture of mature Marine Turtles,
 through moratorium, extended closed season, or implementation of a                  DoE      CIG              2006        1,3
 maximum size limit.
 PL3: REPORT: Legislation amended in 2008 to enact a maximum size limit and extended closed season.
 PL4. Mobilize volunteer support for nesting beach monitoring and expand
                                                                                     DoE      VOL              ongoing     1
 volunteer programme.
 PL5. Develop and implement a monitoring system to ensure that legal
                                                                                     DoE      CTF MP           ongoing     2,4
 Cayman Turtle Farm products can be differentiated from illegal products.
 PL6. Promote a mandatory policy of “turtle friendly” lighting and design for                 CIG DoP
                                                                                     DoE                       2012        1
 all new beachfront developments.                                                             CPA DCB



                                   Section: 3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles - Marine Turtles    Page: 3
                              Marine Turtles                                                                          MEETS
                                                                                 LEAD           PARTNERS   TARGET
                           PROPOSED ACTION                                                                           OBJECTIVE
                                                                                            CIG DoP
PL7. Promote a mandatory policy of native vegetation maintenance and/or
                                                                                DoE         CPA            2012      1
landscaping for all new beachfront developments.
                                                                                            DCB
                                                        Safeguards & Management
SM1. Using GIS data, ensure that key nesting habitats are protected from
                                                                                DoE         DOP            2008      1
coastal development.
SM2. Using GIS location data, ensure that key foraging habitats are
                                                                                DoE         DOP            2006      2,3
protected.
SM3. Mitigate the effects of inappropriate beach lighting by installing
                                                                                DoE         DoP MP         ongoing   1
“turtle-friendly” lights in key locations.
SM4. Implement associated HAPs.                                                 DoE                        2015      1,2,3,4
                                                                 Advisory
A1. Train Customs personnel in identification of marine turtle products.        DoE         HMC CIG        2006      1,3
A2. Address marine debris and litter control issues.                            DoE         CIG            2008      1,3
A3. Targeted awareness of the need for the National Conservation Law and
                                                                                DoE         CIG NT         2006      1,2,3,4
the Endangered Species (Trade & Transport) Law.
A3. REPORT: Extensive public outreach Mar-Sept 2010.
                                                         Research & Monitoring
RM1. Continue systematic monitoring efforts on nesting beaches on all
                                                                                            MTRG
three islands, in order to determine population trends towards informing        DoE                        ongoing   1
                                                                                            MCB
conservation management.
RM2. Conduct sustainable, regular, and frequent inwater monitoring on all
three islands to determine trends in abundance of foraging populations, and     DoE         MTRG           ongoing   2,3
identify key habitats towards informing conservation management.
RM3. Analyse genetic structure of juvenile Green Turtle Chelonia mydas
                                                                                            MTRG CTF
populations to determine contribution of Cayman Islands Turtle Farm to          DoE                        2010      2
                                                                                            IntC
wild foraging aggregations.
RM4. Construct Sister Islands research accommodation (Little Cayman)            DoE                        2008      1,2,3
RM4. REPORT: Accommodation for up to four individuals on Little Cayman established by DoE, 2008.
                                                       Communication & Publicity
CP1. Targeted awareness campaign to key sectors of Government and local
                                                                                DoE         CIG MP         2006      4
community.
CP2. Maintain local and international media campaign.                           DoE         MP             ongoing   4
CP3. Launch educational DVD / schools packs.                                    DoE         DE             2006      4
CP4. Promote island-wide awareness of the differences between adult and
juvenile sea turtles through production of educational posters, fliers, and     DoE         DE MP          ongoing   4
media releases.
CP5. Expand sea turtle education in the National Curriculum.                    DoE         DE MP          2008      4
CP6. Raise public awareness of the ecological value of sandy beach and cobble
                                                                                DoE         MP             ongoing   4
using Marine Turtles as a flagship for preservation.
CP7. Raise awareness of sustainable alternatives to threatened fisheries
                                                                                            DoE DoT
amongst members of the public through involvement with educational              NT                         ongoing   4
                                                                                            CA MP
programmes e.g. Cayman Sea Sense
CP8. Utilise native flora and fauna, and associated preservation efforts, in                DoE MP
                                                                                CIG                        2010      4
the international promotion of the Cayman Islands                                           NT DoT




                                  Section: 3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles - Marine Turtles    Page: 4
References and Further Reading for Marine Turtles

    Bell, C.D., Blumenthal, J.M., Broderick, A.C., Godley, B.J. (2009). Investigating potential for depensation in marine turtles: How low can you go?
    Conservation Biology, 24(1):226-235.

    Bell, C.D., Blumenthal, J.M., Austin, T.J., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Broderick, A.C., Godley, B.J. (2008). Harnessing recreational divers for the collection of
    sea turtle data around the Cayman Islands. Tourism in Marine Environments, 5(4): 245-257

    Bell, C., Solomon, J.L., Blumenthal, J.M., Austin, T.J., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Broderick, A.C., Godley, BJ (2007). Monitoring and conservation of critically
    reduced marine turtle nesting populations: lessons from the Cayman Islands. Animal Conservation, 10:39-47

    Bell, C.D., Blumenthal, J.M., Austin, T.J., Solomon, J.L., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Broderick A.C., Godley, B.J. (2006). Traditional Caymanian fishery may
    impede local marine turtle population recovery. Endangered Species Research 2, 63-69

    Blumenthal, J.M., Solomon, J.L., Bell, C.D., Austin, T.J., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Coyne, M.S., Broderick, A.C., Godley, B.J. (2006). Satellite tracking
    highlights the need for international cooperation in marine turtle management. Endangered Species Research, 2: 51-61

    Blumenthal, J.M., Austin, T.J., Bothwell, J.B., Broderick, A.C., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Olynik, J.R., Orr, M.F., Solomon, J.L., Witt, M.J., Godley, B.J.
    (2009). Diving behaviour and movements of juvenile hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata on a Caribbean coral reef. Coral Reefs, 28(55-65).

    Blumenthal, J.M. , Austin, T.J., Bell, C.D., Bothwell, J.B., Broderick, A.C., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Gibb, J.A., Luke, K.E., Olynik, J.R., Orr, M.F., Solomon,
    J.L., Godley, B.J. (2009). Ecology of hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata in a western Caribbean foraging area. Chelonian Conservation and
    Biology, 8:1-10

    Blumenthal, J.M., Abreu-Grobois, A., Austin, T.J., Broderick, A.C., Bruford, M.W., Coyne, M.S., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Formia, A., Meylan, P.A., Meylan,
    A.B., Godley, B.J. (2010). Turtle groups or turtle soup: patterns of dispersal of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean. Molecular Ecology, 18, 441-4853.

    Blumenthal, J.M., Austin, T.J, Bothwell, J.B., Broderick, A.C., Ebanks-Petrie, G., Olynik J.R., Orr, M.F., Solomon, J.L., Witt, M.J., Godley, B.J. (2010)
    Life in (and out of ) the lagoon: insights into movements of green turtles using time depth recorders. Aquatic Biology, 9: 113-121.

    Considine, J.L. (1973). Mariculture and the turtling industry of Grand Cayman: man’s response to a vanishing resource. M.A. Thesis. Department of
    Geography, University of South Carolina.

    Duncan, D.D. (1943). Capturing giant turtle in the Caribbean. National Geographic Magazine, 84:177-190.

    Echternacht, A.C., Burton, F.J. and Blumenthal, J.M. (2011). The amphibians and reptiles of the Cayman Isands: Conservation issues in the face of
    invasions.  pp. 129-147 in: Hailey, A., B.S. Wilson and J.A. Horrocks, eds.  Conservation of Caribbean Island Herpetofaunas, Vol. 1, Conservation
    Biology and the Wider Caribbean.  Brill, Leiden.

    Wood, F.E. and Wood, J.R. (1994). Sea Turtles of the Cayman Islands. In: The Cayman Islands, natural history and biogeography. (eds M.A. Brunt and
    J.E. Davies), pp. 229-236. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.




                                      Section: 3.M.3.1 Marine Species - Reptiles - Marine Turtles            Page: 5

								
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