Over the past decades, the Cayman Islands has seen unprecedented economic and development growth that brought many benefits to the islands and the local population. However, this development meant that natural habitats for animals in the Cayman Islands have been compromised. It has been especially disruptive for sea turtles, which tend to nest on prime beachfront property. Additionally, during turtle nesting season, the local turtle population is at serious risk from poaching.

In recent years, the Cayman Turtle Center has had positive results with its turtle release program and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) has had success in helping the recovery of the wild turtle nesting population. However, protecting the nesting turtles and their eggs around-the-clock during nesting season has proven to be a tremendous logistical challenge. 

Mike Ridley, a Florida resident who has spent a large part of his life on Grand Cayman, wanted to find a project that could unite people in conservation efforts in the area. Working with the Department of Environment and key Caymanians he identified protecting nesting sea turtles as a problem that could be solved with the application of the right solutions. He spearheaded the effort to apply advanced monitoring and analytic technologies in their protection. He selected a remote beach, Turtle Beach, on the northwest of Grand Cayman, and identified the Netwatch Proactive Video Monitoring Technology as a potential solution.

Turtle Beach is an isolated, public, outdoor environment directly on the shore. This presented problems in terms of weather, power sources, and the ability to implement and secure the solution itself. Additionally, traditional video monitoring was not a good option, as it could only provide proof of crimes after the fact rather than provide immediate information and the opportunity for intervention.

“Turtle Beach has been a beach heavily threatened by poachers since it is very isolated with few homes along the beach,” explained Mark Orr, DoE chief conservation officer, Cayman Islands. “This makes it a great beach for turtles to quietly nest, but also allows poachers to work without the threat of being seen. Also, at both ends of the beach access paths lead up to larger roads that allow poachers to drag the turtles off the beach and load them into vehicles very quickly.

“Given the very low numbers of nesting turtles, every individual is critical to the continued recovery of the population. Turtle Beach, one of the islands’ busiest turtle nesting beaches, was chosen for this pilot program and was put under around-the-clock video surveillance using Mobile Advanced Safety Towers (MAST) technology from integrator Security Centres International (USA) and Netwatch Proactive Video Monitoring advanced analytics and AI to deter poaching and provide information aiding the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DoE).”

The team identified this solution for its sophisticated suite of security offerings, including comprehensive monitoring, advanced analytics, live call-down intervention, as well as real-time alerts to the DoE when an intruder is detected on the beach. 

Netwatch Proactive Video Monitoring proprietary software, monitored by National Monitoring Center (NMC), intuitively interprets threats such as intruders, as well as identifies the presence of nesting turtles. 

“The Netwatch solution seamlessly monitored and protected the Turtle Beach site from physical and environmental threats through intelligent detection and advanced proactive video monitoring technologies. Our proprietary software is specifically designed to filter out nuisance alarms, [and fast response times] permitted proactive rather than reactive protection of the sea turtles,” said Grant Graham, NMC vice president of Proactive Video Monitoring services.

The solution also provided valuable intelligence as to the nature of the threats, increased the safety of the conservation officers, and reduced human impact on the secured site while increasing the overall site security.

“Our MAST frees up valuable manpower for other important jobs and takes the guesswork out of protecting the turtles and their nests,” explained Stuart Bostock, SCI (USA) CEO. “It also allows for less human interference just by them not having to be present to observe. We can take our MAST just about anywhere with no need for infrastructure, even though in this case main power was utilized.”

The solution at Turtle Beach began July 1, 2019, and was in use for the remaining four months of the active nesting season. The system provides 24-hour protection from poaching with the AI identifying suspicious behavior and alerting the intervention specialist at the monitoring center. When the technology identifies people in the area of nesting turtles, the monitoring center issues a warning to leave the area undisturbed or alerts authorities who intervene. 

During the 2019 nesting season, there were 69 turtle nests at the Turtle Beach location laid by 11 nesting female green turtles. As of time of this writing, in the 2019 nesting season there were no incidents of poaching or attempted poaching recorded at Turtle Beach where Netwatch Proactive Video Monitoring is deployed and the MAST camera is located. 

On several occasions, the solution identified individuals at Turtle Beach who were known poachers, allowing authorities to go to the beach and interrupt any planned poaching attempts. Outside of Turtle Beach, there were a few incidents of poaching or attempts on different beaches and found shells (from butchered turtles) of turtles taken from the sea by people in boats.

Based on the success of this pilot program the solution may be more widely implemented in other nesting beaches in the future.