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5 Ways To Celebrate Earth Hour 2020 At Home

Earth Hour was started by the World Wildlife Fund with a symbolic lights-out event in Sydney, Australia.  Countries around the world take part in putting the spotlight on nature and bring attention to climate change by participating in turning off lights in support of Earth Hour.  Over the years, major landmarks in participating countries switch off their lights as an act of solidarity, some of the iconic landmarks include the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House. 

Anyone can join in and take part in Earth Hour from the comfort of their own home by simply switching off unnecessary lights from 8:30pm-9:30pm during Earth Hour on Saturday, 28th March.  You can go beyond turning your lights out by committing to practice conserving energy on a daily basis to help reduce your carbon footprint.  Easy ways to conserve energy at home include switching off lights that are not in use, avoid phantom electricity by unplugging your devices that are fully charged or not in use (computer, tablets, iPods, phones etc), take advantage of the sunshine by letting your clothes dry on a clothing line rather than in a dryer, and get into the habit at night to turn your A/C a few degrees warmer while you sleep.  Other easy ways to help reduce your carbon footprint include supporting local, buy from your local farmer’s market, and start your own vegetable garden.     

Join in and celebrate Earth Hour from Home

  1. Turn off unnecessary lights during Earth Hour from 8:30pm-9:30pm on Saturday 28th March
  2. Bring out the board games and/or cards and enjoy a family games night by candlelight
  3. Unplug and enjoy a good book by candlelight 
  4. Reflect, journal or write a list of things you are grateful for
  5. Reconnect with nature, watch the sunset from your garden and spend a little time star gazing and marveling at the beauty of nature. 

PS- In this unprecedented time, be sure to stay home, practice safe social distancing and follow the rules/guidelines of lockdown and/or curfew.  Be safe and stay healthy. 

International Women’s Day: Girl Power Cayman Visit The Blue Iguanas

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am sharing a recent private tour of the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility with Girl Power Cayman and Miss World Cayman Islands. Both Miss World Cayman Islands and Girl Power Cayman share a passion for raising awareness about the environment and supporting our community.  On a personal note, it has been such a privilege working with these wonderful organizations.  I am constantly inspired by this strong group of women.  I am thankful for the amazing friendship and sisterhood we all share.  I am so proud of Girl Power Cayman’s enthusiasm and interest in learning more about conservation and ways to help protect our environment.  

As previously mentioned, Jaci Patrick, Miss World Cayman Islands 2019 and Girl Power Cayman recently visited the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility located at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.  We had an incredible guided tour learning fascinating facts about Cayman’s endangered Blue Iguana, which is endemic to Grand Cayman.  The girls were able to ask questions and get an exclusive behind the scenes look at the life of Cayman’s iconic Blue Iguanas.  Highlights from the tour included seeing the baby Blue Iguanas up close, an incredible photo opportunity with Sir Peter, the famous Blue Iguana that has been photographed with HRH Prince of Wales, as well as seeing the largest Blue Iguana at the facility, Opy.  “It was my first time taking a tour of the blue iguanas at The Blue Iguana Conservation Facility and I was fascinated to learn about their friendliness and uniqueness to Cayman. Sir Peter was so calm and friendly of which I was surprised. It was an awesome experience. Thank you to the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility for taking their time to educate us on this unique experience” says, Pamela Ebanks-Small, Director of Miss World Cayman Islands and Founder of Girl Power Cayman.  Overall, it was an epic day, filled with incredible memories.  The Blue Iguana Conservation Facility works hard protecting and preserving this incredible species.  To learn more about the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility, click here.  

Interview with Jaci Patrick, Miss World Cayman Islands 2019

Do you remember when you first saw a Blue Iguana?

The first time that I saw a blue iguana was at Queen Elizabeth’s Botanical Park when I was a little girl. It was so great to see how much the Blue Iguana Recovery Program has grown since then. This program is doing an excellent job to conserve our blue iguanas.

What do you love most about Blue Iguanas?

What I love most about the Blue Iguana is that they are native to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. I think that’s what makes them so unique; they aren’t found anywhere else in the world. This is why it is so vital that we protect the Blue Iguanas.

What was the most interesting fact you learned about Blue Iguana’s while on the guided tour at the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility? 

The most interesting fact that I learned about the Blue Iguanas on the guided tour is that they don’t have any predators.

What was your biggest takeaway after visiting with the Blue Iguanas Conservation Facility?

My biggest takeaway after visiting with the Blue Iguanas is that although the Blue Iguana Recovery Program is doing a tremendous job at protecting our Blue Iguanas, they also need our support as a community. I think it’s important that we spread awareness, donate and get involved whenever we can.

Girl Power Cayman Highlights With The Blue Iguanas

About Girl Power Cayman: “Girl Power Cayman is a non-profit organisation which mentors young women between 15 and 25 years old. Their mission is to inspire, nurture and empower young women with lifelong knowledge, skills and values to succeed in today’s challenging and competitive society” – Kelsie Woodman-Bodden of Girl Power Cayman Chairwoman.  If you’re interested in learning more about Girl Power Cayman please contact Girlpowercayman@gmail.com   

A couple of members of Girl Power Cayman share their experience with the Blue Iguanas during their private tour at the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility. 

“I think I have been to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park maybe once or twice in primary school but as far as I can remember I don’t think I’ve seen the Blue Iguanas up close like I did on the Girl Power tour. I’ve always seen them in pictures, but I never expected them to be so big. Our guide, Alberto, provided us with a very informative tour. Although I have been keeping up with the population released in the wild, I didn’t realise the steps that they took to ensure they weren’t cross-breeding, the ways they identified them with the coloured beads on their necks and the way they change colours depending on their conditions.”

-Rosita Ritch

“This was my first time at the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility located at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park and also seeing the blue Iguanas. It was a wonderful interactive and educational experience! My favorite part of the tour was meeting Sir Peter and getting to take a picture with him!”

-Taneil Lee

Take A Tour And See The Blue Iguanas Up Close

If you are interested in taking a tour at the Blue Iguanas Conservation Facility to see the Blue Iguanas up close, see the baby Blues and learn interesting facts about them contact tours@nationaltrust.org.ky 

All proceeds from the Blue Iguana Conservation Facility Tour go directly to Blue Iguana Conservation. 

Photo Credits: Eco Chic Cayman

Sage Larock: Sustainable Swimwear Re-Releasing The Chateau Swimsuit

Sage Larock is Re-Releasing their sustainably made Chateau Swimsuit on 15th November (America’s National Recycling Day) to raise awareness about ocean pollution and ghost nets.  The ethos of Sage Larock is to redefine and redesign fashion to be sustainably and ethically made for the betterment of our environment.  Their commitment to ocean conservation is the driving force behind inspiring their swimsuit collections.  Sage Larock uses sustainable fashion as a platform to raise awareness about the plastic pollution crisis and the impact it is having on our oceans.  Plastic impacts nearly 700 species in our ocean, ranging from plankton to whales.  Seabirds and sea turtles often mistake plastic for food which can result in dire consequences.  Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species (Ocean Conservancy).  Even coral reefs are affected by plastic.  When plastic debris becomes entangled on coral it starves corals of vital oxygen and light, and releases toxins enabling bacteria and viruses to invade  (UN Environment Program).  Furthermore, ghost nets are also a major problem endangering marine life and coral reefs.  These lost and abandoned fishing nets floating around the ocean can easily become entangled on coral reefs or marine life resulting in negative and sometimes fatal consequences.  Thus, knowing the magnitude of the impact plastic has on our oceans should be the driving force for everyone to make more conscious decisions about our consumption and sustainable practices.  We can all make positive changes in our lifestyle such as quitting single-use plastic, like plastic straws, to help be part of the solution.   

On a personal note, I am thrilled that Sage Larock will be re-launching The Chateau swimsuit.  It was the first swimsuit I received from Sage Larock.  This swimsuit is a significant part of where my journey began as a brand ambassador for Sage Larock as I became more conscious of sustainable fashion and the positive impact it has on the environment.  I began to learn more about how clothes could be made in a sustainable way using recycled plastic and ghost nets.  I became more aware of the magnitude of the impact plastic pollution was having on our oceans and that sustainable fashion could be part of the solution.  The Chateau is a timeless swimsuit and my favorite from the Sage Larock collection.  Beyond that, it serves as a statement piece raising awareness for protecting our oceans from ghost nets and plastic pollution.  Sage Larock, has found a way to make something beautiful and meaningful out of recycled plastic.  Through sustainable fashion, Sage Larock is helping to provide a solution to ocean plastic pollution.  I am proud to be a brand ambassador for Sage Larock and join them on their mission to educate others about sustainable fashion practices that work towards helping remove plastic pollution and ghost nets from our oceans and transforming recycled plastic into new materials to create clothing.  At the heart of Sage Larock is raising ocean awareness and supporting ocean conservation. 

Q&A with Taryn Larock, Founder of Sage Larock

1. What is the significance of re-releasing the classic Black Chateau Swimsuit? 

The Chateau in black has always been our best seller and it is a classic black piece that can easily be worn from season to season or as a bodysuit.  It is pretty much our version of the little black dress! We believe that part of being sustainable is also making garments that are high quality and that can be worn year after year, so we feel the Chateau in black embodies this. We chose November 15th to re-launch the suit as it is world recycling day, so we felt this was meaningful that we were re-launching our most versatile popular style, which is made of recycled fishing gear from the ocean. I personally kept the very 1st black Chateau we made almost 3 years ago, and although I wear it at least 2x a week to the beach or as a bodysuit, it is still looks great and can be worn so many ways.

2. Do you find inspiration going back to your roots, where it all began designing sustainable swimwear? 

Like you, and probably so many of your readers, I have always been most at home near or in the ocean, so this is where I always draw inspiration from. The Sage Larock swim collection is really a tribute of love & respect to the ocean.

3. What is the breakdown of all the recycled material that is used to make the swimsuit?

The fabric we use is 78% recycled nylon, which comes from upcycled fishing nets. This is so important because our oceans are literally being destroyed by commercial fishing and nets, and also because virgin polyester is the least sustainable fabric on the planet and is plastic. The remaining 22% is elastic, which is needed for stretch in performance fabric and this is made from rubber. Our fabrics are also certified to be made with non-toxic dyes & without heavy metals, which is very different that the way polyester is made.

4. What impact do you hope to make through your sustainable swimwear? 

We hope to raise awareness about and help provide a solution to the plastic pollution crisis, specifically the 640,000+ tons of plastic nets that enter our oceans each year [40% of plastic in the ocean is commercial fishing gear] and that create mile long death traps that kill millions of marine animals annually, wipe out coral beds and breakdown into toxic microplastic particles. This 640,000 tons of nets is equivalent to almost 2x the weight of the Empire State Building, so its really a huge quantity.

We simultaneously work to provide women with high quality, stylish swimwear & apparel that is sustainable, ethically made & free of toxic chemicals.

Shop Sage Larock 

Visit www.sagelarock.com and use the promo code ECOCHIC and receive 15% off through November 2019. 

Photo Credits:

Lori- Ann Speirs

Sage Larock

People Protect What They Love

“People protect what they love, they love what they understand and they understand what they are taught.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau,

The quote above has always resonated with me. It’s true, people protect what they love. Growing up in the Cayman Islands I learned from an early age that our oceans, marine life, and coral reefs are one of the greatest treasures and assets we have been bestowed custodians of. We have a moral obligation to protect and preserve the precious coral reefs surrounding our islands. After all, our coral reefs are the very heart of Cayman. From a young age, in school, we are taught that Cayman has always had a strong and deep connection to the ocean. Our Coat of Arms has the words, “He Hath Founded It Upon The Seas” inscribed.  For many of us, these words serve as a reminder that our past, present, and future is and always will be linked to the ocean.

The generations before us built our heritage on this strong connection to the ocean.  The Cayman Islands heavily relies on our Tourism Industry, and a significant component of that is built on the snorkeling and diving industry. Thanks to pioneers in Cayman’s diving industry such as Bob Soto, who saw that our underwater paradise is an invaluable asset to Cayman and by making it accessible to both locals and tourists Cayman has become a world famous diving destination. This legacy and pride of showcasing our reefs as a major tourist attraction continues with young Caymanians. Today, there is an increase in young Caymanians who are becoming PADI certified divers and taking courses focused on marine biology and environmental studies. Moreover, the youth of Cayman, like the generations before us, recognize the ecological and monetary value of preserving Cayman’s marine environment.

People travel from all over the world to explore and experience the stunning underwater landscape that surrounds Cayman. We have 365 dive sites, offering world class diving experiences for both locals and tourists. Some of our most famous world renowned dive/snorkel sites include Eden Rock, Devils Grotto, The Balboa (Historic Shipwreck), and Soto’s Reef that are situated in the heart of the George Town Harbor. Currently, these iconic dive sites that have existed for over 10,000 years, and collectively is approximately 20 acres of coral reef is under threat of being damaged, removed and/or transplanted should the proposed expansion of a cruise ship berthing facility go through. I cannot truly express the gravity and the magnitude of the potential loss of this paramount ecosystem. My heart sinks when I begin to think of the loss of biodiversity, the loss of the clarity of our ocean in this particular area, the loss of history and the loss of our heritage. Furthermore, it is more than a significant loss from an environmental standpoint, it impacts our economy, diving industry, and tourism industry. Watersport activities including snorkeling and diving in the George Town area earn approximately $6-8 million dollars a year. If the proposal for the cruise ship berthing facility goes through then we potentially could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue over the next 20 years, due to the loss of this precious ecosystem.

Why We Should Protect Our Underwater Paradise

The Balboa. Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

Living in the Cayman Islands allowed me to have the incredible privilege of having easy access to some of the world’s most spectacular coral reefs, where an abundance of marine life is teeming. I remember when I was a child and my dad taught me how to swim and to snorkel. I remember all the weekends we would spend exploring the ocean. I remember for one of my birthday’s my parents took me and my friends on a glass bottom boat so we could see the coral reefs and marine life in the George Town Harbor.  As kids, it was an exhilarating and memorable experience. We all marveled at the world that existed below the surface, it was truly fascinating. Whenever friends and family came to visit we would always take them on the Atlantis Submarine so they could see the underwater world that we were proud of and are fortunate to have access to every day. It was never something to take for granted. In particular, I spent a significant amount of time as a child and even still today exploring Eden Rock. It is a place I cherish most. It is such a profound privilege and luxury to have easy access to crystal clear waters and exploring firsthand the extraordinary beauty that resides just below the surface. Throughout my life, a tremendous love for the ocean has always been instilled in me. As well as, an urgency to protect our oceans and all life that calls the ocean home. Knowing that this spectacular underwater world exists and surrounds our tiny islands, is something to be proud of. It is something that is so valuable to our island, our community, our economy, and our heritage that it must be protected through conservation. We must unite and preserve these iconic dive sites in the George Town Harbor that were part of the genesis of building our island’s diving and tourism industry. We need to preserve these reefs so that the youth today, and generations to come can be afforded the same privilege so many of us have had, seeing these ancient coral reefs in all of their glory. As a child, it never occurred to me that these reefs could one day be gone. Now, decades later, there is a very real possibility that these iconic reefs and historic shipwrecks could disappear.

Preserving Cayman’s Unique Harbor

diving in cayman

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

The George Town Harbor is a designated Hope Spot by Mission Blue. A Hope Spot is a special ecological habitat that is considered to be critical to the health of the ocean. These special areas are recognized as being in need of protection and conservation. The preservation of Hope Spots around the world allow valuable ecosystems an opportunity for coral reefs, and marine life to rejuvenate and strengthen. This is vital to their surrounding habitat and marine life dependent on its survival. Hope Spots and Marine Protected Areas remind us that our marine ecosystems are precious, fragile and worth preserving. Our oceans are home to an underwater paradise, parallel to rainforests. Coral reefs are intricate ecosystems that are fundamental to marine life and the underwater communities dependent upon them.  Marine ecosystems have a precarious balance, and everything is interconnected. Therefore, any form of breakdown in one part of the ecosystem sets off a ripple effect.

The George Town Harbor is unique as it acts as a safe and stable environment for coral reefs, fish, turtles, sharks to thrive and replenish their populations. This makes it both special from an environmental standpoint and as a tourist attraction. The marine environment generates $69 million USD from tourism every year in the Cayman Islands (Wolfs Company 2017). The George Town Harbor is an ideal snorkeling and diving area as it has mostly calm throughout the year making it very appealing to tourists who have traveled to Cayman just to see our reefs and have less than 24 hours to explore our oceans. A unique feature of the George Town Harbor is that in the relatively shallow water, 30ft deep, you can find some of the largest coral reef structures in Cayman, with the exception of, off the main wall. Moreover, tourists with limited time to explore Cayman, have the incredible opportunity to easy access to the multiple snorkel/dive sites in the harbor within minutes thanks to multiple dive operators in the area. As a result, these are some of the most visited and most photographed dive sites in Cayman. Moreover, coral reefs also serve as a barrier, protecting our mainland during storms and hurricanes. The reef is responsible for $5 million USD protection to infrastructure in the Cayman Islands from storms and wave erosion each year (Wolfs Company 2017).

Eden Rock & Devils Grotto

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

Famous for the unique underwater caves, silversides and tarpons make Eden Rock a beloved dive/snorkel site. It is one of the most accessible sites throughout the year. Other highlights to see snorkeling in this area are the coral reefs, spotted eagle rays, parrotfish, silversides, angelfish and nurse sharks.

The Balboa

Photo Credit: Aaron Hunt

One of Cayman’s most famous shipwreck’s, The Balboa is an important part of our history. In 1938, the navy vessel was crewed by a number of Caymanians, some of their families still reside in Cayman today. The Balboa was brought in during rough weather but unfortunately sank. This historic shipwreck is a highlight for snorkelers and divers as the shipwreck has coral reef formations on it such as brain coral, star coral, soft coral, and sponges.

Soto’s Reef

Photo Credit: Jim Caitlin

Soto’s Reef is an integral part of Cayman’s diving history, as Bob Soto was a pioneer in the diving industry. Soto’s Reef is a truly spectacular coral reef structure and a hub for an abundance of marine life making it one of Cayman’s most treasured and beloved dive/snorkel sites. The coral reefs extend a mile long and about 30ft in height. As a snorkeler, you can marvel at the coral reefs only 10ft below the surface. An array of schools of fish can be seen such as: blue tangs, damselfish and parrotfish.  An amazing spot for taking underwater photos. Coral reef structures include fire coral, brain coral, as well as colorful sea fans and sponges. Often you can see turtles and spotted eagle rays swimming along the reef.

Preserving Our Iconic Underwater Paradise

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” -David Browner.

Globally, our environment is in crisis. And we have a chance to protect and preserve 20 acres of ancient coral reefs that have existed for over 10,000 years in the George Town Harbor. We have an incredible opportunity to choose a legacy of preserving some of Cayman’s iconic reefs to ensure that they remain part of the future of the youth today and generations to come. The diving industry is the economic heart of our tourism industry. Diving and snorkeling is the single most popular reason why tourists visit Cayman. Grand Cayman, at this moment, continues to be unique as it still has crystal clear water and thriving coral reefs in the harbor. This is due to the fact that unlike other Caribbean islands, up until now, we have not expanded our port. By doing so, we have been able to maintain the integrity of our island’s heritage and protecting Cayman’s beloved underwater national treasures.

We cannot rob future generations of the opportunity to experience the coral reefs in the George Town Harbor that were instrumental in making Cayman a leader in the diving industry and tourism, that we have had the chance to experience. If the port goes through, iconic dive sites such as Eden Rock, Devil’s Grotto, The Balboa and Soto’s Reef will be gone. We will never see the recovery of this 20 acre ecosystem in our lifetime. It took 10,000 years for those reefs to become what they are now. For many of us, at least we will have beautiful memories of marine life, coral reefs, and the Balboa. Future generations won’t even have that. They will only have the memories we share, photographs and videos that document what was there. Once it’s gone, it will leave behind a graveyard of coral, a wasteland. This will result in negative consequences for local fisheries and the marine environment as a whole. We will be left with the ghost of a memory of the underwater world that existed there. Not only will we lose a significant ecosystem, but we also stand to lose a profound piece of our island’s heritage, for many a piece of their childhood, and for some their livelihood. We have this one last chance to make a difference, to protect what we love and what has helped build our island into a major tourist destination, supporting our economy. We have this one opportunity to choose a legacy to preserve this iconic piece of our heritage and underwater paradise.

The thought of losing these precious dive sites that are thriving with life is devastating. Some things in this life are irreplaceable. Once it’s gone you can’t go back to it, you can’t rebuild it, you are just left with the memory of what once was, and what use to exist. Those coral reefs are not just part of our marine environment, they are part of our home. That is something worth protecting, cherishing and preserving for future generations.

Knowing that there is a chance it could all be gone. I implore you to join the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and special guest speaker Aaron Hunt who will be leading the tour exploring the 20 acres of historic coral reefs, Eden Rock, Devils Grotto, Soto’s Reef and the wreck of the  Balboa. See for yourself, the life that lives below the surface, the turtles, sharks, array of schools of fish, and coral reefs rich in biodiversity. Take a good look at the underwater paradise that is at stake of being lost for generations to come.

Photo Credit: Jim Caitlin

Photo Credits:

Aaron Hunt

Ellen Cuylaerts

Jim Caitlin

What You Need To Know About Turtle Nesting Season In The Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands was originally named “Las Tortugas” in 1503 by Christopher Columbus, due to the abundance of turtles found in our waters.  Five hundred years later, turtles are still one of the most beloved and iconic animals in the Cayman Islands.  There are three species of turtles that can be found in the Cayman Islands: the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle, the endangered Green Sea Turtle, and the vulnerable Loggerhead Sea Turtle.  Sea turtles are a strong symbol for the Cayman Islands and need support through protection and conservation.  That being said, during Turtle Nesting Season it is vital that turtles and their nests are kept safe and not disturbed, so that hatchlings (baby turtles) are able to make their way to the water.  

Some simple ways the community can help protect turtles during nesting season include keeping the beaches clean of litter and keeping nesting beaches dark and safe for turtles. Homes in popular nesting areas are asked to keep blinds closed and to use ‘turtle friendly lighting.’ This attractive amber lighting meets the needs of beachfront property owners without disorienting baby turtles and causing them to crawl away from the sea.  Beachfront residents can also remove beach chairs and watersport equipment off the beach, when not in use, to avoid creating obstacles for the nesting females and hatchlings.  In the event that you come across a turtle nest, or are looking for more information on turtle friendly lighting, you can contact the Department of Environment (DoE) at 938-NEST (938-6378) or doe@gov.ky. 

Turtles, like all marine life, depend on healthy oceans and ecosystems.  In order to help increase their chances of survival it is vital that we all do our part to keep our oceans free of plastic, as plastic in our oceans has become an increasing problem.  Ingesting plastic is harmful to all marine life, and turtles can easily mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish.  According to 4Ocean, “It’s estimated that over half of all sea turtles have ingested some form of plastic” (https://4Ocean.com/).  Also, removing ghost nets and recycling fishing line is just as important, as turtles and other marine life can easily become entangled which can be harmful and even in some cases, fatal.  For a list of fishing line recycling bin locations, see http://doe.ky/marine/fishing-line-disposal/.   

Q&A With Trevor Dunbar, Volunteer with DoE Turtle Team

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What inspired you to become a volunteer with DoE Turtle Team?

TD: Since I arrived on island I have always loved snorkeling with turtles at Spotts Beach, or have been really excited when one shows up during a scuba dive.  One morning at Spotts beach I met Lorri and Paul (both part of the DoE Turtle Team) processing a nest on that beach.  They were both so keen to educate me and other onlookers as to what they were doing and I was fascinated!   I believe that in Cayman we are so spoiled with turtles that we take it for granted.  It’s great that I get to see turtles every weekend, but I wanted to do something more to ensure the conservation of these animals, so that any visitors to this island get to share in this experience for many years to come.   

What is a typical day like looking for turtle tracks and nests?

TD: I walk the beach twice a week looking for turtle nests.  The stretch of beach I walk was allocated to me by the DoE Turtle Team, and I walk on the same two days of the week that they “work” those beaches to record and process any nests.  I am usually on the beach by 06h15, as I have to have my report through to them by 07h30. Some nests (especially a fresh green turtle nest) are REALLY obvious to spot- the up and down tracks in the sand, as well as the massive hole, next to a pile of soft powdery sand.  If a nest is a few days old, the tracks have usually been walked over by people on the beach, and the hole is less pronounced, and that becomes more of a challenge.  Kids building sand castles, dogs digging holes, and people dragging paddle boards on the sand all complicate things even further, and this also leads to false reports of nests – but the DoE Turtle Team checks all reports to confirm whether a turtle laid eggs.

How do you help protect the turtle nests that you find during your patrols on the beach?

TD: Great question!  Actually the most important part of my walk is making sure that I find ALL of the nests, as the DoE Turtle Team comes directly to the nests that I call in. This means that if I miss a nest, so do they, and that has implications for research, as well as survival of the unhatched turtles.  In the event of a big storm hitting our coast, the team is able to go directly to nests and relocate them if the waves are getting too close to them. If they don’t know about a nest, they cannot relocate in such an event.  Also, when it is close to hatching time, the team tries to encourage resorts/houses overlooking that beach to turn off lights to limit mis-orientations (when the babies crawl towards the lights instead of the sea).

Interestingly, the eggs are laid deep enough in the sand that even if you were to walk over a nest you would not crush them (although please don’t go do that!).  After the Turtle Team is done processing a nest, they will rake over the tracks and fill the hole, so you wouldn’t even know it was there.  This also helps prevent the same nest being re-reported after they have processed and logged it.

Are there particular beaches that are more popular for the turtles to make nests? 

TD: Definitely!  And this also varies between species of turtle. Unfortunately, I would prefer it if you don’t publish which exact beaches are more popular (and you will see my pictures never show obvious landmarks) because I would hate to encourage poachers to come to these specific spots.

What are some of the dangers turtles face during nesting season?

TD: People!  When these turtles come up on the beach they are very slow moving and are like sitting ducks, and this is when most poaching happens.  

Also, adult turtles mating in the water are often tormented by snorkelers which can disrupt the breeding cycle.  

Once babies hatch, lighting from the street or from houses/condo complexes disorientate thousands of hatchlings a year in Cayman. When they emerge, they instinctively crawl towards the moon light reflecting off the water.  When there is a brighter light on the land side, they crawl towards that, where they cross the road/get eaten by land crabs/dehydrate when they don’t reach the water by sunrise- all of these are horrible ways to die, and are all completely avoidable!

How can the public help keep turtles and turtle nests safe?

TD: Firstly, report any actual or possible turtle nesting activity to the Turtle Hotline (938-NEST / 938-6378). It is really helpful if your report is as detailed as possible, and if you can include pictures with landmarks in the background that is even better!  

Also, please report any suspicious activity or poaching to DoE Conservation Officers at 916-4271 or to 911. Each year the team and DoE enforcement officers prevent multiple poaching incidents through tip offs from the public.  

Lastly, do not interfere with nests or hatchlings, and respect mating turtles.   

How many eggs are laid and when will the eggs typically hatch?

TD: This varies between species and turtle to turtle, but a typical clutch is between 100-150 eggs per season.  A female lays 5-7 times per season, and this alternates year on year ie the females laying in 2019 will be back on our beaches in 2021 -or even later.  (Typically, 2-4 years.). Eggs usually incubate for 45-60 days before hatching.  Interesting fact is that the temperature inside the nest determines the amount of time for the nest to hatch and the sex of the hatchlings.

Are the baby turtles left to make their own way into the wild?

TD:  Correct.  After the female lays her eggs, deep in her dug-out egg chamber, and still covers that with a pile of sand, she leaves and does not return to check on or defend her eggs or babies.   After all of the babies hatch and there is enough movement and energy inside the nest, they “erupt” out of the sand and then scurry off to the water.

What is the most interesting fact about turtles that you would like to share? 

TD: Female turtles will always return to nest on the beach that they hatched on. Even more interesting is that the resident turtles you snorkel with in Cayman do not nest here.  Through genetic studies, we know that our juvenile turtles come from across the Caribbean, and through satellite tracking, we know that our nesting females actually live in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and other Central American countries when they are not nesting!  

How can the community get involved?

TD:  I think there is loads that people can do.  

The team is always looking for volunteers to walk the beaches and look for nests (reach out via the hotline number to get more information on this).  

People that live on or close to known turtle nesting beaches should be changing to turtle friendly lighting, or questioning their strata/landlord whether their exterior lights are turtle friendly.  Thankfully this is the norm for many new developments, however getting existing developments to change over has been really tough.  

Lastly- simple life choices like recycling, avoiding single use plastics, and being involved in beach clean ups is all part of the cause! It breaks my heart to be snorkeling with turtles and see plastic in the water, because they do eat it, and it will eventually kill them.  Local eco-friendly groups like Plastic Free Cayman and Protect Our Future also organize multiple events on the ground in Cayman, and spread a really positive message about the environment in general, so I would encourage people to get involved in their initiatives.  Cayman is such a small island that you as an individual can make a difference!

 

Stay Connected On Instagram: Trevor Dunbar, DoE,  Eco Chic Cayman

Photo Credits: Trevor Dunbar

Resources: Trevor Dunbar and DoE

 

Protecting the Biggest Fish in the Sea with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Personally, whale sharks are my absolute favorite shark species.  It is an incredible privilege to see them in all their glory in the wild.  For some of us, the opportunity to swim with a whale shark is once in a lifetime.  They are fascinating and docile creatures.  They reach an impressive size, up to 14 meters making them the largest fish in the ocean.  Whale sharks are considered to be gentle giants of the sea.  Their mesmerizing distinctive pattern is thought to aid camouflaging in their environment and is a unique, identifying mark like human fingerprints.  There is still so much to learn about Whale Sharks.  On that note, today we are featuring Ocean Conservationist Louisa Gibson from Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to learn more about their team’s research studying the behaviors of Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.  

About Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Whale Shark Research

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Research Institute have partnered with a research group in Isla Mujeres, Mexico called Ch’ooj Ajauil to tag whale sharks with SPOT (smart position or temperature) tags. This type of tag allows us to track the animals in near real time by sending a satellite ping when the dorsal fin breaks the surface. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, and inhabit tropical and temperate waters around the world traveling huge distances. Between May and August every year, hundreds of whale sharks aggregate off of the Yucatan Peninsula in response to a species of tuna spawning in the deep sea. This is the largest known aggregation in the world; it attracts thousands of tourists every year to experience swimming with the sharks, and is the perfect opportunity for us to gather scientific data on the species. Once the sharks leave this aggregation, we have no idea where they travel to and why. If we can learn more about their migrations, we can protect them from threats such as ship strikes and commercial fishers. We also aim to identify their key habitats, such as breeding grounds and nursery sites.

Q&A With Ocean Conservationist Louisa Gibson

 

How would you describe your experience swimming with Whale Sharks?

If it isn’t on your bucket list, I highly recommend adding it towards the top, right now. The experience is surreal, its magical! You jump in and have to move fast, because their movements are misleading. It looks like they are swimming slowly but their massive tails propel them through the water quite quickly. They aren’t bothered by having people swimming alongside them, as long as you don’t touch them. If you are lucky enough to witness a “botella,” which is when the shark floats vertically as it gulps in gallons of water to feed on concentrations of fish eggs and plankton at the surface, you suddenly share the trans-like state that the shark is in. You feel so small in the vast ocean, next to this giant graceful animal. It’s really quite a moving experience and it makes you appreciate how incredible our ocean is.

 What was the aim for your Whale Shark research?

GHOF, GHRI and Ch’ooj Ajauil aim to learn about the whale sharks migrations to identify key habitats and behavior in regards to breeding, feeding and traveling in order to protect them in the open ocean. Very little is known about the whale sharks reproductive behavior, and where they breed and give birth is currently a  mystery. So far 10 whale sharks have been tagged, 4 of which were tagged last year and all travelled in different directions only to return to Isla Mujeres a year later. Others,  tagged this year are still enjoying the rich waters off the Yucatan Peninsula as we speak. The more animals we tag, the more likely we will be able to identify patterns in behavior between males and females, adults and juveniles. To follow our tagged sharks visit GHRItracking.org, or to contribute to this research visit GHOF.org.

 

What do you find most fascinating about Whale Sharks?

There are so many fascinating things about whale sharks! They are the largest fish in the sea, however feed on the smallest (eggs, plankton, small fish). The white patterns on their dorsal surface are all totally unique, like our finger prints, and can be used to identify individuals. They are from the order Orectolobiformes, otherwise known as “carpet sharks” which typically live near the bottom of the sea, yet whale sharks also feed at the surface. Other examples of Orectolobiformes are the nurse shark and the wobbegong. Some whale sharks in the Caribbean region have an intrinsic pull to the Yucatan at the same time every year – how do they know?!

 

What do you think people would be interested to know about Whale Sharks?

They are filter feeders so technically don’t need teeth but they actually have rows of hundreds of tiny teeth, just like other sharks. Almost nothing is known about whale shark reproduction, however over 300 embryos were found inside a pregnant female in the 90s. The embryos were in all stages of development, and when 29 were genetically tested, all had the same father which could mean that this species can store sperm from one mating event and fertilize their own eggs later on. Incredible stuff!

 

Also, they are harmless sharks making them very fun to swim with.

 

Can you share a bit about GHOFs shark conservation efforts?

GHOF and GHRI focus on the research and conservation of a number of different shark species including the mako shark, tiger shark, oceanic whitetip, silky shark, and the whale shark which are studied predominantly out of Cayman Islands, Maryland and Mexico. Since the Guy Harvey Research Institute was established in 1999 we have reached some significant milestones in shark conservation. In 2006, scientists at GHRI identified that up to 73 million sharks per year are killed in the shark fin trade alone, sparking international concern about the plight of sharks. More recently GHRI discovered, through fisheries-independent data, that mako sharks are harvested 10 times more than previously thought when 30% of tagged sharks were killed. This led to emergency protections for the species in the NW Atlantic; and data from our shark research also influenced the complete protection of sharks in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

 

Learn more about Whale Sharks

Check out Jessica Harvey’s Expedition Notebook series for bite-size learning about the whale shark and other cool species!

Co-Author

Louisa Gibson

Resources

Louisa Gibson

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Photo Credits

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation