The Cayman Islands Turtle Farm is experiencing a marked increase in the mortality rate of young turtle hatchlings and at the same time the number of viable eggs produced by the herd is steadily diminishing.
The combined effect of the two factors is causing real concern about the long-term outlook for the farm and its ability to satisfy local demand for turtle meat.
Acting CEO Joey Ebanks said changes were necessary.
‘It has affected our release program,’ he said. ‘I am going to have to eliminate it for a while and cut back on the total amount of meat we produce for consumption.
Mr. Ebanks said he was putting together a steering committee to start a research programme to address the problem.
The Government has advised Mr. Ebanks that the farm is his number one priority, he said.
Turtle stew is the national dish and has cultural importance.
Mr. Ebanks said there are concerns that if the supply of meat decreases enough, it could result in an increased level of turtle poaching of the remaining wild stocks.
‘What we are doing right now with our chief Scientific Officer, Joe Parsons, is working towards developing a stronger relationship with Gina Ebanks-Petrie at the Department of Environment,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘This is helping us put together a research team that can help us pull… expertise from around the world that we need to increase our production.’
Currently the shells from the turtles that are slaughtered for their meat end up in the landfill. Mr. Ebanks said he is now taking steps to make polished shells available once again, while at the same time introducing a mechanism to protect wild turtles from being exploited for this commodity.
Mr. Ebanks said shells from farm turtles would be tagged by a process approved by the Department of Environment.
‘We want to ensure that the shells that we sell can be identified and that if anyone takes turtles from the wild population, DoE can take the necessary steps to prosecute.’
Mr. Ebanks said a method would be determined for registering and ‘grandfathering in’ existing shells that are currently held by members of the public.