Some of them came home: the Cayman Turtle Farm headstarting project for the green turtle Chelonia mydas

Catherine D.L. Bell a1p1c1, Joe Parsons a2, Timothy J. Austin a1, Annette C. Broderick a3, Gina Ebanks-Petrie a1 and Brendan J. Godley a3
a1 Department of Environment, PO Box 486GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
a2 Cayman Islands Turtle Farm Ltd, PO Box 645GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies.
a3 Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter in Cornwall, Trenough Campus, Penryn, TR10 9E2, UK

Article author query
bell cdl   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
parsons j   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
austin tj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
broderick ac   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
ebanks-petrie g   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
godley bj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Headstarting is a management technique employed to enhance recruitment of turtles into diminished or extirpated marine turtle populations. Although there have been numerous projects worldwide, there has been a paucity of detailed investigations into its efficacy. Between 1980 and 2001, 16,422 captive-raised hatchlings and 14,347 yearling green marine turtles Chelonia mydas were released from the Cayman Turtle Farm. Approximately 80% of all turtles released were subject to some form of tagging, including living tags. A total of 392 tagged animals have been recaptured at intervals of up to 19 years. Of this total, 160 individuals were captured in the Cayman Islands and 232 were recorded from other locations within the wider Caribbean and southeastern USA. There was significant variation in the release-recapture intervals at the three countries with most returns (Cayman, Cuba and Nicaragua). A positive relationship exists between time at large and size at recapture and data suggest growth rates comparable to those of wild green turtles in the region. There have been at least six living tag returns, four involving turtles released as yearlings and two involving turtles released as hatchlings. This demonstrates an age at maturity that may be as short as 15–19 years, depending on stage of release. Results show that some headstarted turtles are moving around the Caribbean, surviving for long periods of time, contributing to the local breeding population, and are possibly displaying shifts in habitat utilization with age similar to those recorded by wild individuals.

(Received December 4 2003)
(Revised June 2 2004)
(Accepted November 2 2004)

Key Words: Caribbean; Cayman; Chelonia mydas; green turtle; headstarting.

c1 Correspondence: Department of Environment, PO Box 486GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies. E-mail cbell@seaturtle.org
p1 Also at: Marine Turtle Research Group, University of Exeter in Cornwall