Monitoring and conservation of critically reduced marine turtle nesting populations: lessons from the Cayman Islands

Authors

  • C. D. Bell,

    1. Department of Environment, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
    2. Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn, UK
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  • J. L. Solomon,

    1. Department of Environment, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
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  • J. M. Blumenthal,

    1. Department of Environment, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
    2. Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn, UK
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  • T. J. Austin,

    1. Department of Environment, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
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  • G. Ebanks-Petrie,

    1. Department of Environment, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
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  • A. C. Broderick,

    1. Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn, UK
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  • B. J. Godley

    1. Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn, UK
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Correspondence
Catherine D. Bell, Department of Environment, PO Box 486 George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies.
Email: catherinebell@boatswainsbeach.ky

Abstract

Historically, nesting marine turtles were abundant in the Cayman Islands and were an integral part of the economy and culture. Today, nesting of loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta and green turtles Chelonia mydas takes place at very low levels. Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata nesting has not been recorded since 1999. We overview highly detailed monitoring data gathered over a 6-year period allowing insight into the magnitude and spatial and temporal patterns of marine turtle nesting, cost-effectiveness of monitoring such reduced populations, impacts of development on reproductive success and current threats to the recovery of the population. Nesting is diffuse and widely distributed for both nesting species on Grand and Little Cayman. Modelled nesting detection profiles for Grand Cayman show that in order to maintain data resolution, most sandy coastline must be surveyed throughout each season. However, in Little Cayman it may be possible to reduce effort. Legal take of adults and illegal take of eggs may be significantly impacting the remaining population. Surprisingly, we observed no significant correlation between density of coastal development and clutch density, adult emergence success or hatching success for either species. A significant relationship exists however, between density of coastal development and incidence of misorientation events in loggerhead hatchlings but not in green turtle hatchlings. Effective protection of known nesting habitat and the elimination of exploitation of remaining adults and eggs within the population are critical to its recovery.

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