Turtle Farm critics take aim at ‘curtain of conservation’

| 04/11/2015 | 34 Comments
Cayman News Service

Dr Ana Nuno, lead scientist on the turtle consumption report

(CNS): The international animal rights charity, World Animal Protection, and the conservation body, Sea Turtle Conservancy, have described the Cayman Turtle Farm’s position on its role in protecting wild green sea turtles as nothing more than a “curtain of conservation”.  Following the recent publication of a study on turtle meat consumption that found just one percent of residents ate turtle every week, the charities have refuted the CTF’s position that if it did not produce meat for consumption the wild population would be wiped out in months.

Dr Neil D’Cruze, WAP Head of Wildlife Research & Policy, and Marydele Donnelly, Director of International Policy at Sea Turtle Conservancy, said that despite the presence of a legal source of turtle meat, illegal take of wild turtles remains high relative to the size of the wild turtle nesting population, with at least 195 households estimated to have bought illegal turtle meat during the last year.

“Unfortunately, we are also not surprised to see that in response to these results, the Farm is once again ducking behind what we and other sea turtle protection groups in the Caribbean commonly call their ‘conservation curtain’,” the pair said in a joint statement. “Their old, and frankly bogus, conservation claim is that the Farm is the only way to protect and prevent the extinction of Cayman’s turtles. A clever bit of propaganda used to justify the cruelty, public health and financial costs of the Farm.”

The NGO representatives said that there are many other ways to protect turtles that don’t put the welfare of the endangered animals and the health of people at risk. Given the annual subsidy for the farm’s running costs remains at around $4 million per year, D’Cruze and Donnelly said if that were given to the Department of Environment instead, it would cover the equipment and salaries needed to tackle poaching and protect Cayman’s remaining nesting sea turtles.

“To reiterate, the Farm’s claims that it is the only way to conserve Cayman’s turtles are simply not true,” the pair stated. “The turtle meat study is not complete. But Caymanian residents have new vital information to inform much-needed discussion about the future of the Farm. Ultimately, it is they that will decide whether and how to protect their turtles. But this decision should be made with a clear understanding that there are other ways to conserve sea turtles. Ways that address the root causes of their declines rather than simply treating the symptoms of the problem.”

The CTF recently argued, however, that the taste for turtle meat was not diminishing greatly in Cayman yet, and although only 1% were eating the meat every week, many people said if the meat was cheaper they would like to eat it more. Some 44% of those who said they had consumed turtle over the last year also said that if the farm was not producing meat, they would eat wild turtle.

The report, Socio-economic aspects of turtle conservation in the Cayman Islands, produced by University of Exeter at the request of the DoE and funded by the UK’s Darwin Plus Project, found that for regular consumers of turtle meat, the number one factor regarding whether they purchased poached wild turtle or farmed meat was the price, and the researchers found that there is a significant amount of turtle meat available on the blackmarket. However, only 16% of those consumers said they preferred the taste of wild meat.

CTF Director Tim Adam recently told CNS that the number of people in the survey who admitted eating illegal meat illustrates the risk that the still very small wild population is under if they were not farming turtles.

The farm, which remains controversial, has also criticised WAP for not giving it credit for the changes it has put in place, to address husbandry and welfare issues. Adam admitted however, that the facility is an intensive farm and the outbreak of disease last year has undermined the its credentials further, as did the negligence on the part of the farm two years previously, when several hundred turtles cooked to death in the hot sun when a tank ran dry during maintenance work and no one noticed.

World Animal Protection and Sea Turtle Conservancy published an article in 2014 in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, detailing the extensive animal welfare and conservation problems associated with sea turtle farming.

Ending sea turtle farming (World Animal Protection website)

Socioeconomic aspects of turtle conservation in the Cayman Islands (key findings)

More information on the DoE website

The Cayman Turtle Farm



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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (34)

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  1. Knot S Smart says:

    All dis talk about turtle meat making me hungry…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Leaving the CTF expense and mgmt issues out of it for a second, what is the current bounty on turtle poachers? When was the last article about a poacher getting caught and convicted and what was the sentence? What education and example has been done to discourage the buying of poached meat? Where do the shell scutes go? These are some of the questions we need to ask of this government. It’s a much bigger farce than the WAP people realize.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Japan is the consumer market for scutes not China. This is a good question that never seems to be answered to any satisfaction. The alleged burning events of all contraband seem to be very cavalierly administered.

  4. Diogenes says:

    If the farm could produce turtles in humane conditions and free from disease, it would defuse most of the criticism. If there were no obvious suffering, and the farmed population could be released into the wild without fear of doing more harm than good, then a lot of the popular support for WAP would disappear. The biggest problem the farm faces in battling international sentiment and criticism are the pictures of turtles covered in lesions, genetic abnormalities and mass deaths from neglect.

  5. Anonymous says:

    These so-called environmentalists really are clueless. Close the farm and the wild turtle population will be wiped out in no time. That is the bottom line.

  6. Satirony says:

    One reason the Turtle Farm loses so much money is the way the disadvantageous loans were set up to pay for the expansion. It was a Government operation that also helped sweep unemployment under the carpet. Think about it, the $10 million-a-year losses would give 333 people a free stipend of $30,000-a-year. Then there were two massive turtle die-offs recently, one well publicized and caused by disease, the other precipitated by an emergency generator which failed during a power-cut, resulting in around 1,200 turtles dying from heatstroke. There are good points to the farm, but criticizing it from a failed-conservation angle is not as persuasive as criticizing it for being a nonsensical business-model that simply sucks outrageous amounts of taxpayer’s money from the Government’s coffers. Imagine focusing that ten-million-a-year education or criminal rehabilitation, the payback would be huge over time.

    • Diogenes says:

      Remind us who set up the loans, and who the lender is?

    • Anonymous says:

      I would rather see it spent on the children to receive the sort of education and skills they need to get ahead not just in Cayman but all over the world. Improving literacy rates alone would make a stark difference.

  7. caymanqt says:

    By that reasoning, if ganja were cheaper, more people would smoke it. Why not make turtle meat consumption illegal? There are many other food choices available to Caymanians, most of whom care enough about their environment to make other choices once they realize how endangered turtles are. People have cooperated and stopped eating sea beef and other marine life now illegal to capture and consume. Caymanians are for the most part concerned about their environment and its future. Stop pandering to the those who want to line their pockets with government money providing for the turtle farm and start involving Caymanians in protecting sea turtles.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Ana Nuno is from Portugal, her national dish is codfish that is imported from Canada,
    Turtle meat is the only thing that is not imported into the Cayman Islands.

  9. Anonymous says:

    unfortunatly this will be met with the usual caymanian ignorance and arrogance….
    caymanians have no shame when it comes to animal welfare…..

  10. Anonymous says:

    close this vile facility now!!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    1% total population eating turtle per week isn’t that strange when you think of all the other food that only 1% of us don’t eat weekly. I don’t remember the last time I ate fish, much less farmed fish, yet WAP isn’t suggesting we stop importing farmed salmon (and tilapia and swai and etc.) are they? WAP would have a lot more respect if they didn’t pull a curtain of bad maths over their inconsistencies.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you not understand still? Fish, cattle, pigs, sheep, etc, – all commonly found all over the world. The turtles you eat – ENDANGERED SPECIES?

      • Anonymous says:

        I would guess that many animals would be on the endangered list if they weren’t farmed, when was the last time you saw a ‘wild’ cow? The turtles at the farm aren’t the same as wild turtles, yes wild turtles are endangered, but the ones at the farm aren’t wild, they wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t been farmed, and they won’t exist if the farm closes.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tilapia are not on the IUCN Red List.

  12. Anonymous says:

    People purchasing wild turtle is a bit like the organic produce scam. If your vegetables don’t look so good, then say they are organically produced and sell them for more. People get turtle meat produced at the CTF, perhaps it is illegal in that they didn’t pay (full price?) for it, and this meat is then sold as wild turtle to people who are willing to pay a bit more for wild turtle.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The turtle farm exists because the provision of turtle meat is of political importance in the Cayman Islands. I know that sentence does not make sense to people in the first world, but trust me it is true. The place is a disgrace and should be closed down.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Since they want us to ban turtle meat in the Cayman Islands, I suggest our UK experts consider banning “fish & chips” in the UK – since we have such a declining fish stock worldwide.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Oh my, Advocating bigger Government, no nothing about poaching do they. The turtles are here only because of the decades old CTF release program.

    • Anonymous says:

      With respect, your post is complete and utter, totally unsubstantiated bullshit. The farm needs to close. Cayman’s children would better benefit from the taxpayers money being thrown at it to perpetuate such an atrocity.

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