Farm saved turtles from extinction but survival ratio low

| 22/01/2019 | 38 Comments
sea turtle, Cayman Islands, Cayman News Service

Nesting sea turtle (Photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): A genetic study into nesting green sea turtles in the Cayman Islands found that the mass releases by the Cayman Turtle Farm (now the Cayman Turtle Centre) in the 1980’s and 1990’s saved them from extinction in the region. But only a small percentage of the 30,000 hatchlings and yearlings released over 20 years ago survived into adulthood and returned to nest on local beaches. The research, which was funded by the Darwin Initiative, was conducted by the Department of Environment in partnership with the Universities of Barcelona and Exeter as well as the CTC. It found that around 90% of the nesting turtles have some DNA connection to those released.

Despite the ultimate success of those early releases in saving the turtles from extinction, the study found that fewer than 150 females from the tens of thousands that were released into the sea survived to adulthood to return and lay eggs of their own.

The mass releases over 20 years ago have been credited with saving the local turtle population, which was functionally extinct at the time, resulting in nests on local beaches increasing from one known nest in 1999 to 200 recorded in 2017 by relatively genetically diverse turtles.

However, the study looked only at the releases that took place well over two decades ago and not the current programme, which continues to cause concern. The results of this study have also shown how long it took for the mass release programme to produce the next generation and how costly it has been to bring the sea turtles back from the brink of extinction as a result of over-fishing.

Cayman News Service


Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Dr Janice Blumenthal, one of the authors of the study, and DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie both pointed to the importance of conservation as a critical part of saving green turtles from extinction in the wild. The study found that the number of Loggerhead turtle nest has also increased and they were never farmed, emphasizing the importance of the conservation efforts and the restrictions on taking wild turtles.

Ebanks-Petrie said it was definitely a success story that the by-product of the farm, which was created for purposes of consumption, saved the population. But she noted that 30,000 releases and huge sums of public cash has resulted all this time later in less than 150 nesting females returning home. The message from this, she said, was that the idea of fishing out a wild population and then replenishing it with farmed animals was not acceptable.

She also pointed out that the current release programme is different and there are questions about husbandry and health screening protocols at the farm today.

“We would like to have the health screening protocols at the turtle farm independently evaluated so that the DoE and government generally can say hand on heart we have done our endeavour best to ensure that the releases that are currently taking place from the farm are not negatively impacting wild populations of sea turtles in the general Caribbean sea,” Ebanks-Petrie said. “The turtles that are released don’t just hang out around here. Eventually they become part of other populations in other countries.”

She wants to see independent verification of health screening at the farm so that whatever we do here is an overall benefit and that “no one can point a finger at the Cayman Islands about something negative among the populations because of the current releases”.

The DoE experts remain concern about disease outbreaks in the wild that could be caused by the releases, as they stressed the need for this independent verification of the health standards of turtles being released. Ebanks-Petrie said the DoE was in discussions with the CTC about this issue.

Blumenthal said the need for future releases should be looked at closely, as the population is becoming sustainable and could now replenish itself, so long as strict conservation and fishery measures remain in place.

Ebanks-Petrie said that while the mass releases in the 1980’s and 1990’s were important, the conservation measures have also played an essential part in the overall successful recovery of the turtle species in local waters. “The changes made to fisheries regulations have to be given credit for part of this success,” she said.

Blumenthal noted that if people had been allowed to continue taking turtles, the population would be zero and there would have been no recovery, regardless of the releases.

See the full report in the CNS library

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Comments (38)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    the turtle farm…cayman ignorance and hypocrisy at its best.

    • Jah Dread says:

      I rebuke ya negative comments jah go wash ya face. Ain’t it possible dem turtle migrate somewhere else like how 8:32 am will have to do if me see Im.

  2. Anonymous says:

    turtle farm…sums up everything you need to know about caymankindness….
    imagine going to china to visit a panda sanctuary and afterwards being offered panda stew????
    yes …we have a special kind of stupid around here….

    • Anonymous says:

      Except.. people don’t make panda stew as a cultural dish. Turtle as a dish is engrained into the Caymanian heritage from the days when they were numerous. This allows the tradition to be shared with younger generations while sustaining the population.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who doesn’t make panda stew? Speak for yourself!

      • Anonymous says:

        We are doing next to zero to sustain the wild population. We kill 1000 a year either from meat production harvest or husbandry ineptitude…in good years releasing maybe 1/20th that number which, if not already diseased or dying, are likely welcome appetizers for a variety of established marine predators that haven’t been raised on Purina Turtle Chow.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t give the Chinese any ideas, they eat everything else! Also, I bet panda stew would be delicious.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes we have a special kind of stupid here and you are it

  3. Anonymous says:

    close this vile facility down along with the dolphin prisons. its 2019 for gods sake…..

  4. Anonymous says:

    I love eating turtle. Thanks CITC

  5. Anonymous says:

    But you should keep eating them…

  6. Anonymous says:

    …if we were farming white rhinos, and created an entire subsidized horn and meat production industry, diverting tens of millions a year of public money (that could have gone into roads, parks, crime prevention, mental health etc), while releasing just a couple dozen juveniles into the wild savannah, would that be spun into a conservation success story? How many different ways are we going to twist the fact that these are endangered species, and only doomed because we still force-feed our kids the idea that they have to consume this protein as a matter of birthright?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why do we keep funding this money pit??!!?? Get it together Cayman!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yet, sea turtles, including Critically Endangered Loggerhead and Hawksbills, are still being poached by successive new generations being taught (thanks to generous meat-subsidies and vote-buying politicians) that sustaining a destructive culinary tradition with a palate for endangered species is a cultural birthright.

    Rather than paying the DOE to serve up more fake conservation PR, and in fair exchange for the tens of millions a year in public funds, wouldn’t it be more credible for the Turtle Centre to publish an honest online historical log of the turtles released post Michelle with the date and place of release, and age of green sea turtles released…maybe some photos?

    If this were to be published, we’d all see that the last 10 years of farm conservation spin has been a sham.

    Here’s what it might look like:

    Nov 11, 2018 Spotts Public Beach = 25 released
    Apr 27, 2018 Bodden Town = 6 released
    Feb 26, 2018 Barkers = 15 released
    Dec 10, 2016 Barkers = 36 released
    2015-2013 = Clostridium outbreak 1270 dead, no releases…big coverup.
    2012 = 40 released, including records of sick and injured turtles
    2011 = 9 yearlings and 40 hatchlings…

    2016 Annual Report slaughter figures are over >1182 turtles a year, 62,198lbs/year to satisfy a production target of 900 turtles and 40,000lbs of meat. Great job!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I love seeing these animals when I am diving and snorkeling. Thank you, Cayman Turtle Farm.

  10. Cayman Farm for Propagation of Turtle Borne Diseases says:

    Name says it all, no need for further comment.

    • Anonymous says:

      Prove it, moron! You’re making claims with absolutely zero scientific backing. While the science indeed proves that the turtle farm has brought these animals back from the brink!!

      What the turtle farm has done is priceless.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s right you can’t put a figure on the squander & mismanagement of this abomination of a farm.

      • Anonymous says:

        Unfortunately, Anonymous 2:18 pm, It’s impossible to get exact figures as to how much the farm-produced turtles are costing. The farm must take in SOME money, but not enough to take care of its expenses, otherwise why does the government subsidize them with $10,000,000 per year? Lets say they release 1,000 turtles a year……… that would mean the government is paying $1000 for each turtle released! Man those are EXPENSIVE turtles! Shut the farm down.

        • Anonymous says:

          The cost to produce one lb. of turtle meat is in the annual report.

          The $10,000,000.00 you speak of is not so much a subsidy to the Turtle Centre operational cost but is instead the annual loan repayment amount for the new facility that was built after the hurricane destroyed the first one.

          According to the annual report there is only two more years left on this loan, so in two years you should see annual subsidies drop to zero or near zero.

          And for those misrepresenting the release numbers, from the media we know that is excess of 1,300 were released in 2018 including all three islands. It also says that over 32,000 have been released to date, over th eyears.

          This release program had been halted for 6 years because of outside Organisations published erroneous claim that releasing headstarted turtles into the wild did not work.
          In this study, DNA testing has proven them wrong.

          This scientific research report from the University of Barcelona and the University of EXter is a ringing endorsement of the release program of Cayman Turtle Centre.

          Any Rehabilitation program that is able to produce 90% success in increasing the population in the wild, proven by DNA sampling, aught to be supported by even its most ardent detractors.

          Results! Matter!

  11. Anonymous says:


  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Cayman Turtle Farm! Please ignore the people who claim the farm is a waste of money and the animal activists! What you have done is priceless and long may it continue!

    We do however need to educate our younger generations on conversation and try and eliminate the poaching that goes on here.

    • Anonymous says:

      many international experts and scientists disagree with you…but hey what would they know….zzzzzzzz

      • Anonymous says:

        Did you read the article? If we had no turtle farm we would have no turtles in the wild. So you and the “international experts” need to pull your heads out of your asses.


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