Cayman Turtle Farm boosts hatch rate with better diet

| 29/10/2015 | 35 Comments
Cayman News Service

Green sea turtle

(CNS): More than 38,200 eggs were laid by the Cayman Turtle Farm’s breeding turtles this season as a result of improvements in the food and hatchling process. In years gone by, the CTF had serious problems with the numbers of eggs being laid and the survival rate but this season, from the first nest of 100 eggs laid in April to date, over 100 of the farm’s breeding females dug 476 nests on the artificial beach, with the highest hatch rate on any given nest reaching 93%. 

The first hatchlings emerged in the incubators, where the eggs are move to, in June, officials stated this week.

Unlike in the wild, these turtles being bred for food do not stay on the beach where their mothers lay the eggs but are moved to incubators. During a recent interview, Dr Walter Mustin, CTF’s Chief Research Officer, told CNS that there is an optimum time after the eggs are laid when they can be safely moved to the incubators at the hatchery without causing harm.

The hatchery is on open display behind a window, so visitors can see the hatchlings climbing their way out from the artificial nest some 3-feet deep in the sand incubation box, which the farm said replicates the conditions in the wild.

“We are encouraged by the continued high numbers and increased hatch percentages of eggs laid by our captive breeders, the likely result of a number of factors, including the improved breeder diet and changes to hatchery procedures,” Dr Mustin said. “The breeder diet was reformulated from scratch with adjustments made to the vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid profiles. Special emphasis was placed on adjusting the n3:n6 polyunsaturated fatty acids ratios to better reflect those found in wild green sea turtle adult herbivorous diets.”

He explained that changes in hatchery procedures include more active management of incubation conditions, such as sand moisture and egg incubation depth.

A recent survey commissioned by the Department of the Environment confirmed that the taste for turtle meat has not disappeared in Cayman and the farm is still playing an important role in conserving the wild population. Of the 30% of people in Cayman who said they had eaten turtle in the last year, 44% of them said they would eat poached turtle if they could not get access to farmed turtle.

However, the facility is still struggling to successfully farm the animals, not least because of the time it takes for a turtle to mature, though Mustin said the increase in nutritional value from the new feed has also reduced the time it takes for the captive bred turtles to mature to their reproductive age.

CTF is still facing criticism over the conditions in which the turtles are kept and is the centre of a campaign by the international animal rights charity World Animal Protection. However, CTF Director Tim Adam told CNS that the charity is not giving the farm credit for the significant improvements made relating to the conditions and welfare of the farmed turtles.

Adams said that the outbreak of disease at the farm last year which killed over 1200 turtles was the first in more than three decades and was a disease common among all farmed animals. He also justified the death of more than 300 animals that cooked in the sun two years before was a one-off situation that was a combination of a number of challenging factors and human error.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (35)

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  1. The Thinker says:

    I don’t remember seeing the number of turtles released into the wild every year and the number of turtles butchered yearly and sold for food. Is that a secret?

  2. Walking Dead says:

    The turtle farm is a classic example of a government “zombie program”.

    Costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill…….

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was gifted a helicopter tour which I really enjoyed… except for when we passed over the turtle farm and saw all the turtles scrambling on top of each other in small round pools/tanks. By small I mean in comparison to the number of turtles (who are usually solitary creatures) crammed in there. Clearly cruel even for anyone to see.

    I hope they just close it down. The cost of beefing up and enforcing protection, and thereby creating jobs, is a drop compared to the ocean being wasted on the turtle farm.

    • Anonymous says:

      Except closing it down would cost more jobs than would be created (for different people) for increased enforcement. So please don’t use ‘jobs’ as an argument.

      • Anonymous says:

        You so have no understanding of either government or economics let alone common sense.

        My breath would clearly be wasted on the likes of you just as money is wasted on CTF. If I was a CTF worker I would gladly give up my job if the same money could be put into educating my children. Some people just know greed and nothing else.

        • Anonymous says:

          So you wrote all of that to say ‘I have no counterargument to offer’. Good thing you didn’t want to waste your breath.

  4. Anonymous says:

    close this place down …I went once and I still have nightmares…..

    • Anonymous says:

      Better not visit a slaughterhouse for cows and chickens then! Or do you believe that these meats come straight from heaven in that pretty plastic packaging?

      • Anonymous says:

        I worked at one.The difference is those animals are not endangered and are not raised and crammed into small pens and live in the slaughterhouse in torture for their entire lives like the ENDANGERED turtles do.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh please.

    Close the thing down already and spend the money on education so that Caymanians can get proper jobs.

    SMH.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wrong, wrong wrong.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So basically the Turtle Farm is feeding the turtles food that has been loaded with some type of growth hormone to make them grow faster?

    Way to go….Caymankind.

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe some ninja turtles could deal with our crime and corruption issues (apologies for sounding treasonous)

    • Anonymous says:

      No hormones at all. just vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. Stop making stuff up.
      Besides better food for the turtles may well lead to more nutritious and tasty turtle meat for us.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hipocrites….. Beef, Chicken, etc, have been pumped with these things for decades. It is a reptile that is 100% farmed and consumable. No turtle born in the wild is captured and slaughtered by the FARM.
      In fact I am 36 yrs old and have eaten turtle atleast once a month since I could eat it, and have NEVER had wild turtle in cayman. Trust me it taste very different.

      That being said I have to wonder about the so called survey on consumption, I can name 30 people off the top of my head that enjoy it, just in my immediate circle.

      If “you people” want to stop something and protect an intelligent species fight for the incaged dolphins that offer nothing but entertainment to the ones that can afford the outrageous prices.

      • Anonymous says:

        So everyone in your cave eats turtle?

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree with you. The only reason this is such a controversy is because it is something that Caymanians enjoy and is part of their heritage. There are those here who hate us and would love nothing more than to disassemble our heritage, and make us nothing more than a people without a past.

        It amazes me that these same people aren’t fighting to stop the Japanese trawler ships that is Totally rapping the ocean and scrapping the ocean floors everyday. Killing Dolphins, turtles, and whatever else that is caught up in their nets.

        Hell, at least this is a farming operation!!! But I guess they don’t see that as they are driven by their usual narrow minded view.

      • The Thinker says:

        If you never had wild turtle in Cayman, how can I trust you when you say you know it tastes different?

    • Tim Adam says:

      “Anonymous 29/10/2015 at 10:13 am” do you consume any vitamins, minerals, or fatty acids in your choice of foods, or as supplements? If so, does that mean you are taking “growth hormones”?

      I didn’t think so. You made a ridiculous assertion. Where in the article does it mention growth hormones? NOWHERE. And which growth hormones are these turtles fed? NONE. PERIOD.

      Our Green Sea turtles that produce the meat that we sell every weekday, are not fed any growth hormones. We don’t feed them on antibiotics either. Compare that to the routine feedings of growth hormones and antibiotics in the typical diet in the production of the chicken, beef, and other farmed meats and milk products you are consuming regularly and you will quickly see why our sea turtle meat is a very healthy alternative:
      http://www.webmd.com/diet/safer-food-healthier-you

      What you WOULD have seen in the article if you had read it with an open mind, a good understanding of the English language and a genuine interest to learn, is that our Chief Research Officer Dr. Walter Mustin created a new formula for the food we provide to the breeder turtles, optimizing the proportions of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid ratios. In his painstakingly thorough research to create this new formula, Dr. Mustin built on the work of other researchers and information in previously published scientific papers, for example earlier work done by Dr. James Wood and Dr. Fern Wood who did a lot of research at Cayman Turtle Farm over several years awhile back, and on the more recent work of Dr. Johanna Mejia-Fava who did her veterinary residency at the farm in 2010 in a collaborative internship associated with the St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine.

      Wild Green Sea turtles become herbivorous as they mature into adulthood, and the breeders are of course at the adult stage of life, so Dr. Mustin deliberately designed their feed formula to be a better match for adult Green Sea turtles’ natural herbivorous diets. The results have been outstandingly positive. Moving from approximately 8 thousand eggs per annum to over 38 thousand eggs per annum is a huge achievement by any reasonable interpretation.

      This is but one of many successful research projects conducted at or in close collaboration with Cayman Turtle Farm. There are also some very exciting research projects currently underway at the farm, and summary descriptions of some of those will soon be displayed at
      https://www.turtle.ky/current-project

      In addition, over 150 of the scientific papers that exhibit the results of many such projects that have already been completed and either published or presented within the scientific circles, are listed on our website at
      https://www.turtle.ky/scientific-paper

      • Tortuga Tim says:

        Recent comings to light suggest that a few hundred of them may have benefited greatly from some antibiotics in recent times.

      • Anonymous says:

        I looked and many of those papers your website refers to have little or nothing to do with the farm. Many are not even about green turtles. Many are about the diseases and problems of captive turtles (props for including them.) Doesn’t seem to justify the massive financial loss year after year.

    • Anonymous says:

      It works for cows and chickens!

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