Discharge permit for turtles

Following 40 years of pumping untreated effluent into the marine environment, a discharge permit has been issued to the Turtle Farm by the Water Authority.

The two-year discharge permit, effective this past 1 October, has been granted on the grounds that the Turtle Farm has demonstrated a commitment to reducing the impact of the farm’s activities on the marine environment.

The permit, for wastewater from the turtle breeding pond and commercial turtle tanks, concludes a year-long collaboration between the Water Authority and the Turtle Farm to ensure the farm meets environment impact requirements.

A review by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner earlier this year found that the Turtle Farm had ignored requirements to obtain a waste discharge licence from the Water Authority for years.

Within the permit the Turtle Farm has been given the target to reduce its discharge of wastewater in the marine environment by half by 1 July, 2009.

‘We have every confidence they will achieve this target,’ stated Director of the Water Authority Dr. Gelia Frederick-van Genderen.

Managing director and chief operating officer of the Cayman Turtle Farm Joseph Ebanks says the Turtle Farm will go the extra mile.

‘We have set ourselves a very aggressive internal target to reduce our environmental impact to zero per cent, even though the permit requires only 50 per cent. The Cayman Turtle Farm is the world’s most unique turtle breeding facility and has the potential to become a leading scientific research site.’

The initial two-year licence period is when the Turtle Farm will reduce to 50 per cent. In a permit renewal beyond that it will strive to get to zero per cent, Mr. Ebanks said.

Zero per cent, he said, means that discharge can be managed and treated easily enough by Mother Nature. ‘The water won’t be totally clean but it will not be harmful,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks explained some of the ways the Turtle Farm plans to do this. He said that through the application they will use to treat effluent, they are expecting to trap nutrients and recycle one-third of the waste water, allowing them to reuse that water.

They will have bio-filters to reduce nutrients and floating screens to reduce solids.

They will also have very regimented sampling by the Water Authority lab and by labs overseas, he said.

To date, several processes have been modified, the required sampling and monitoring equipment has been purchased and installed. The services of experts in coral reef biology and aquaculture waste management have also been retained. These efforts have set the foundation necessary to establish current pollutant loads, implement a comprehensive waste-reduction plan to reduce those loads by half, and monitor the results.

An expert on developing cost-effective solutions to aquaculture industry water treatment, Henning Gatz of Aquacare Environment is currently completing the design of the effluent-discharge treatment system for the facility and he will then go on and identify, cost and source the equipment needed for it, before installing it, Mr. Ebanks said.

The designs are expected in a few weeks and 50 per cent of the new system is to be installed by the end of the first year of the permit.

The licence calls for a 50 per cent reduction in environmental impact because the cost to treat 100 per cent is extremely high, he noted.

Mr. Ebanks said that from his initial look at figures, he would venture a cost of around US$600,000 in order to reduce the environmental impact to zero per cent.

‘But we will phase it in and therefore spread the cost out,’ he said.

They will have a better idea of cost once all the designs are fully complete and costing can be done properly, he said.

Once the environmental impact has been reduced, Thomas Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, will come on board with the next step, which deals with the regeneration of the damaged reef.

Hendrik-Jan van Genderen, water resources engineer for the Water Authority said that over the years the discharge of pollutants by the turtles at the farm had promoted an overgrowth of algae on corals the nearby marine environment.

‘Reducing the pollutants will have the reverse effect, in that the algae will die off and the environment will recover,’ he said.

Mr. Goreau has already indicated there has been a recovery in the reef over the last few years, said Mr. Ebanks, adding that only a certain type of coral is recovering, and other coral types will need to be transplanted.

The Turtle Farm has already removed all wastes generated during the processing of turtle meat from its marine discharge and recently began testing bio-filters in its saltwater lagoon.

Baffles have been installed in turtle tanks to reduce the outflow of excessive nutrients during feeding of the turtles. Additional measures to capture fine particles using various filters are planned. Implementation of the waste reduction plan will include evaluation of the various measures and processes to optimise pollutant load reduction.

Commenting on the success of the bio-filters so far, Mr. Ebanks said, ‘The animal life-support system in the lagoon is computerised and automatically starts the backwash filters to treat water when algae gets to certain levels. Already there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of those backwashes and the bio-filters have only been in place for one week.’

A press release from the Water Authority noted that the dolphin facility, adjacent to Boatswain’s Beach, as a tenant of the Turtle Farm property, will be subject to the same regulations as the Turtle Farm’s discharge permit, which will require a variation. It states that all effluent waste is monitored and regulated at a single point of entry and exit to the property, which encompasses the Turtle Farm and all its tenants.

‘Dolphin Discovery is preparing a proposal to treat its effluent prior to connecting to our pipe,’ said Mr. Ebanks.

Continuous monitoring by the Turtle Farm and the Water Authority over the course of the permit will provide the data necessary to determine the effectiveness of the measures taken.

Based on analysis of the monitoring results, the permit will be renewed after two years with revisions necessary to ensure continued improvement in the quality of the effluent discharge.

Mr. van Genderen said there had been a high level of cooperation between the Turtle Farm, the Department of the Environment and the Water Authority over the past year on the matter.

‘For their part, the Department of the Environment was instrumental in reviewing data and identifying environmental impacts and threats,’ he said. ‘Although this has been a long process, mainly due to insufficient data in the beginning, we are confident that we are now moving in the right direction.’