(CNS): The tourism minister has told the Legislative Assembly that around $4.5 million of the public cash pumped into the Cayman Turtle Centre in the last financial year went towards paying the loan to build the facility. Moses Kirkonnell said that the outstanding debt for the facility will not be paid off until 2019. As the minister presented the Turtle Centre’s financial report to his parliamentary colleagues for the last budget year, he revealed that because of the loan and shortfalls in revenue, the attraction made another loss of $6 million.
Around $2.4 million of the government money given to the CTC went towards its day-to-day operating losses. The minister said that revenues were, however, beginning to increase and that food and drink sales as well as admissions were growing. He also pointed to an increase in meat sales of around 29%, which he said demonstrated the need to keep farming the meat. With the demand showing “no signs of diminishing”, Kirkconnell said there would be “unsustainable pressure” on turtles in the wild without the Centre (previously named the Cayman Turtle Farm) which was “fundamental to conservation”.
The CTC has been the target of a sustained campaign by the UK-based animal charity World Animal Protection, which wants to see it become a genuine conservation facility. But despite the myriad problems with the husbandry, the well publicised deaths of hundreds of animals and issues of disease and genetic deformities at the facility, the desire for people to eat turtle in Cayman means the farm is tolerated and in some cases supported by conservationists locally because of genuine fears that without it the wild turtles would be poached to extinction.
Further concerns were raised by the international charities last year, however, with the resumption of turtle release programme in May, as there are worries that the yearlings bred and hatched in captivity could pose a risk of disease to the wild population when released into the sea. There is, however, growing evidence to suggest that the release programme has increased the local nesting population, which is growing year on year.
The minister also stated that the CTC has upgraded the release protocols and the animals are being independently tested overseas before being released to ensure that they do not pose a threat to the wild population. They are also putting some eggs in nests on the beach where they can go straight to the sea.
Kirkconnell noted that with more than 90 people working there, they have only three work permit holders.
The report was one of a long list of outstanding government financial accounts laid by ministers during the morning’s opening session of the LA Wednesday.
See the proceedings on CIGTV: