TURTLES WERE FOUND IN ABUNDANCE around all three islands in days gone by.

Seafaring mariners statue in the Cayman Islands
‘Tradition’, a statue in Heroes Square, celebrates the relationship of Caymanians with the sea, along with a memorial wall carrying the names of 450 Caymanians who lost their lives at sea.

They became a major source of food and income for the islanders from the early times of settlement. They were fished in small vessels called catboats, placed in a pen known as a kraal, and traded.

As numbers of turtles dwindled around Cayman, fishermen ventured further afield to Cuba and Honduras for their catch.

Following the decline of turtle fishing – referred to as ‘turtling’ in Cayman– men turned to a career in the merchant navy to provide a living for their families in the 20th century. Often recruited by American firms, this required them to be at sea for months at time. It was left to the women to look after the affairs at home, including tending the crops.

As Cayman developed, fishing and the seafaring life took a back seat to other higher paying sectors such as banking and tourism.

Today, turtles remain an important cultural symbol for the Cayman Islands.

The book “A History of Turtlers and Schooners of the Cayman Islands” was released in 2023 and explores the history of turtling, shipbuilding and ship sailing, and the people, and boats, that made it possible. Available at More than Words bookstore in George Town; Cayman Turtle Centre; and on Amazon.