On October 15, Sea Turtle Conservancy joined the campaign organized by the World Society for the Protection of Animals to urge the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) to cease its commercial operations and become an educational and conservation facility benefiting green turtles in the Caribbean. We are now responding to CTF’s October 19 rebuttal of the humane, scientific and conservation issues raised by the campaign.
First, CTF maintains that it is a humane operation. If this were the case, how did 300 turtles perish this summer in one tank without water? Our organization has received expressions of concern about the facilities and treatment of turtles from our members and others who have toured the facility while on vacation, with complaints about dirty water and crowding being highest on the list of problems. Both crowding and dirty water constitute inhumane conditions.
Second, in all situations involving the release of captive animals into the wild, the spread of disease to wild populations is a concern. This includes the introduction of new and old diseases to avian, mammal, reptile and amphibian populations. The stress of captivity can conducive to disease no matter how good conditions are and certainly in the case of CTF, poor sanitary conditions are a known issue. Perhaps the CTF is doing a better job with this issue now than it has done in past decades as it admits, “There have been significant strides at the Cayman Turtle Farm since that time to eradicate diseases at the Farm that are present in the wild population.”
Third, for years STC staff have expressed concern about the conservation benefits of the Cayman Turtle Farm releasing sea turtles of mixed genetic stock into the Caribbean. At the time that these releases began, sea turtle scientists did not know that sea turtles from different nesting areas have distinct DNA that allows us to identify their nesting beaches of origin. Turtles hatched at CTF are of mixed lineage because the breeding turtles originated from six distinct areas in the Western Atlantic, specifically Suriname, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guyana, Ascension Island and Mexico. Once genetics were understood, many in the sea turtle conservation community appealed to CTF to stop the practice of releasing turtles of mixed lineage but to no avail. The concerns we have expressed about genetic problems are specifically related to the mixing of the gene pool.
Lastly, we recommend that footage and images of CTF operations recently obtained by WSPA be included in the scheduled evaluation in December by an independent reviewer. Now that CTF management is on notice, in all likelihood conditions are already improving. We anticipate that crowding will be reduced, failing turtles will be dispatched, and water will be cleaned more often than it was in the past. We also expect that the reviewer will have access to all CTF facilities, including the abatoir. In the best case scenario, a representative of WSPA or STC should be invited to participate in touring the facility with the reviewer.
To support our efforts to stop sea turtle farming at the Cayman Turtle Farm, please visit www.stopseaturtlefarm.org and sign the petition. You can also share the link on Facebook and Twitter at #stopseaturtlefarming to make your voice heard.