Farm to release 150 turtles in face of controversies
(CNS): Against the backdrop of international controversy the Cayman Turtle Farm has said it will release 150 turtles into the wild this weekend in its 32nd Annual Pirates Week event. The largest release for many years comes at a time when the facility is coming under increasing pressure to move away from farming and towards conservation. The World Society for the Protection of Animals has launched a full scale campaign against the farm in its current form and is drumming up support across the globe but in particular in the UK parliament. The Cayman Turtle Farm returned its annual release to Pirate’s Week in 2009 after several years of modest numebrs and a ceasation of the release altogther in 2006.
Last year the farm released 40 hatchlings but this year it is more than tripling the number to 150. Since 1968 what the farm calls its ‘headstarting’ programme has placed over thirty-one thousand farmed green sea turtles into the wild.
Meanwhile, in London the WSPA is continuing with its campaign with the help of British MPs from both sides of the political divide. A dozen or so parliamentary questions have been submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Mark Simmonds about the Farm and there are two Early Day Motions which are picking up support in the House of Commons. The website campaign has also generated more than 83,300 signatures. While Richard Branson offered his backing last week to the Turtle Farm, Paul McCartney in the UK has thrown his weight behind the WSPA campaign which has been picked up in the British Press.
The research undertaken by the WSPA that documented myriad shortcomings at the farm from the water quality and overcrowded conditions in the tanks in which the turtles are kept to cases of disease, congenital defects and even cannibalism, was rejected by the Cayman Turtle Farm. It has announced its intention to undertake an independent audit next month to show that the findings of the WSPA are unfounded.
Criticised for releasing farmed turtles because of the dangers of disease being passed to the animals in the wild, the farm is nevertheless pressing on with this significant release next week. Officials said that turtles are quarantined and reviewed for any disease or defect before release.
“Our release programme is dear to our hearts and a central component of our conservation activities as we continue to preserve the Green Sea Turtle population,” Adam said. “This is a very important event for us, as we are releasing a larger number of turtles than we have in several years.”
This year’s significantly higher number is due to a highly successful nesting season, officials said, which saw a record number of eggs laid and an increased hatching rate.
“The Cayman Turtle Farm’s release programme is an important aspect of the organisation’s conservation mandate,” the Farm stated as it invited everyone to come along to the release on the shores of the North Sound across from the North Sound Golf Club on Sunday, 11 November at 4pm.
“Members of the public are invited to join the Cayman Turtle Farm in our conservation efforts,” said Managing Director Tim Adam. “This year visitors to the Cayman Turtle Farm and the Pirates Week Office leading up the event can enter a raffle for a chance to release one of 15 turtles into the sea.”
This year’s release will include yearlings and advanced hatchlings. Yearlings will be fitted with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags) which are micro transponders encased in a glass case about the size of a large grain of rice,” the Farm explained. These electronic tags are injected under the skin and can only be detected with a scanner -- similar to wand scanners used at the grocery store.
These and other types of tags allow researchers to identify individual animals and better understand migration and nesting patterns. The most recent observational data shows that 14 females tagged and released from the Cayman Turtle Farm in the 1980s, have returned to lay their own eggs on Cayman beaches.
Historically, the Cayman Islands boasted one of the largest green sea turtle populations in the Caribbean and possibly the world but by 1900, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had deemed this population to be extinct in the Cayman Islands. Today, according to the Department of Environment, there are less than thirty adult female green sea turtles nesting in the Cayman Islands each year. The Farm said its release programme is to help replenish the local population of reproducing green sea turtles.
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