There’s a turtle farm in the Cayman Islands that sells sea turtles for meat. Indeed, it is the only remaining turtle farm left on earth. The Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) is government sanctioned under the guise of being a research and conservancy program. It also is a popular tourist attraction where the public is encouraged to watch and swim with the turtles, it lets children hold hatchlings and advertises the Farm as the premiere British Caribbean Islands wedding destination.
Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has teamed with WSPA International (World Society for the Protection of Animals) to stop CTF from farming green sea turtles. This includes a Care2 petition.
“The Cayman Turtle Farm tries to promote its operation as something beneficial to wild turtle population” said David Godfrey, STC Executive director, in a recent press release. “Despite the lack of evidence that the turtle release program actually benefits the wild population, countless individuals around the world are led to believe that the program works and that it is a successful option for saving and restoring wild sea turtle numbers.”
“It’s truly horrific to see this type of neglect and cruelty taking place at a tourist attraction. Life in the Cayman Turtle Farm is a world away from how sea turtles live in the wild,” said Dr. Neil D’Cruze, WSPA Wildlife Campaign Leader.
CTF is denying the allegations and stated in its own press release that it has called for an independent review of operations at the Farm scheduled for December of this year. It is currently unknown who or what organization will be performing the review.
A video at CTF was made by WSPA and can be seen on YouTube. Among other things like excrement-polluted holding tanks the turtles are forced to live in, it alleges overcrowded living conditions forcing the turtles to resort to cannibalism.
Sea Turtles Facts
Wild sea turtles are solitary creatures that swim thousands of miles. They have been around for 110 million years, since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sea turtles can grow to 700 pounds, depending on the species. They eat jellyfish, seaweed, crabs, shrimp, sponges, snails, algae and mollusks. The sea turtle is an endangered species found in warm and temperate waters.
Sea turtles cannot retract their limbs and head into their shell, like other turtles can. They migrate hundreds of miles for nesting and feeding. For that reason, tracking wild turtles is difficult.
Female turtles leave the sea to make a nest in sandy beaches and lay their eggs. Once mature, the hatchlings migrate back to sea under cover of nightfall. Only about one in 1,000 hatchlings survive, often becoming food for crabs, birds and other marine animals.
The sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature at the time of incubation. Climate change is producing more female sea turtles because temperatures above 85º Fahrenheit (30ºC) produces predominately females. Below 85º Fahrenheit (30ºC), the eggs more likely become male.
Sea Turtles normally follow the moon and stars’ reflections to navigate back to the waters. Artificial lighting near beaches confuses turtles, making them more vulnerable to predators and dehydration.
CTF has not responded to STC’s claim that in August 2012, the Farm lost about 300 juvenile turtles when a pipe broke resulting in a lower water level, leaving the overcrowded turtles baking in the sun. The most obvious questions are why were the turtles left exposed? Why weren’t the turtles moved to a temporary setting with enough water?
STC disagrees with CTF procedure of releasing farm-raised turtles into the wild and calling it conservation. STC claims CTF is actually increasing international demand for turtle meat and shell products. Currently, CTF sells about ten percent of its turtles for meat. Turtle steak, fritters and soups are standard fare on menus in the Cayman Islands.
STC feels there are three problems with releasing farm-raised turtles into the wild:
1. Farm-raised turtles at CTF have a number of documented diseases; releasing them into the wild will introduce those diseases to the wild population.
2. CTF stock was collected from breeding colonies throughout the Atlantic. Releasing turtles of mixed genetic origin into the wild will likely affect the wild population in negative ways.
3. The ability of sea turtles to return to breeding sites is genetically hard-wired. Releasing turtles to breed that originated from different oceans into a wild population could have devastating effects.
Godfrey reports “The impact of the Farm’s agenda to open international markets to sea turtle trade is much more obvious. The Cayman Farm has a long history of working to ease international regulations that would allow them to market and sell turtle meat and shell produced at the Farm. To be sure, the Farm would like to put ‘green turtle soup’ back on the menu in Europe and elsewhere.”
WSPA released a 24 page report on CTS called “A Case for Change.” The major concerns cited are threat to sea turtle welfare, failure of the conservation mandate, human health risks and the financial unsustainability of the program. It recommends ending the commercial production of green sea turtles and suggests it become a sea turtle research and education center.
What You Can Do
Learn more by visiting WSPA’s website stopseaturtlefarm.org.
Spread the word through Facebook and Twitter.
Related Care2 Reading:
Photo credit: Thinkstock