Boatswain Beach: An attraction in peril

 Boatswain’s Beach (Cayman Turtle Farm Ltd) has been referred to as the ideal location to visit or have a party or social event at, but behind the scenes of the commonly celebrated park there are serious financial concerns brewing.

This is a reality being faced by many government departments.

The situation at Boatswains Beach however, presents special challenges, as there are not only people but animals to take care of and provide for, with needs that have to be met seven days a week, 24 hours-a-day.

In fact, from its humble beginnings in 1968, what we now refer to as the turtle farm/Boatswain’s Beach has always had a hard time proving profitable, according to Acting Managing Director Joseph Parsons, who attributed this to the high cost of research, feed and breeding.

He says in the beginning the turtle farm was purely commercial and started out with the intention of saving the species, while at the same time providing a good source of protein.

Back in those days, the turtle cultivating operation was referred to as Mariculture Ltd. and was run from Salt Creek, West Bay. It went bankrupt in 1975 and sold on to another company, which Parsons said also experienced financial problems before selling the company to the Cayman Islands Government in 1983. The name then became the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm (1983) Ltd.

Some of today’s problems include the inability to sell turtle meat to foreign markets. This is a direct result of the green sea turtle being placed on the endangered species list in 1975 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora/CITES.

As a result of, countries that accept turtle meat from the Cayman Islands would most probably be criticised for doing so.

According to Parsons, “A country has to be able to show that it can reliably produce second generation offspring of a species before it will be considered able to trade it.”    This was an obstacle that was almost overcome untill Hurricane Michelle, when the Turtle Farm lost some of its top breeders; over 200 turtles.

Mr. Parsons went on to say that right before Michelle, a proposal to CITES from the Cayman Islands to sell turtle meat internationally was only defeated by four votes and actually received 2/3 of the vote. He added that the programme would actually have to sell tons of turtle meat to even out the balance sheet for what the Turtle Farm operation costs to operate.

The new Board at Boatswains Beach have only met twice, but many ideas have been pitched to try to stop what some say is a financial haemorrhage that has had to rely heavily on government subsidies to stay afloat.

Some of the more popular attractions at the park are: the Predator’s Reef aquarium;-complete with sharks- the Caribbean aviary and iguana exhibit; a lagoon and nature trail; turtle tanks; a breeding pond and Schooners Bar and Grill.

Currently the Boatswain Beach attraction costs the government approximately ten million dollars per year to maintain and run.

Chairman of the Board for Boatswain Beach Ken Hydes, told the Observer on Sunday that though this was indeed the case, it was still thought that the operation could make great strides toward being profitable.

“You can’t really expect a business that has lost 10million dollars each year since its opening to turn a profit over night, but management have been able to reduce operating costs to an extent, while increasing revenues in some areas,” he said.

The future of Boatswain Beach

Mr. Hydes added that contrary to what many believe, he is not aware of any plan on the part of the government to sell Boatswain Beach.

“What is a more imminent possibility is finding opportunities for joint ventures. “This could be accomplished in some instances by utilizing the extra land on the 23 acre facility for restaurants or making further use of the parking lot or nature trail for new revenue streams, as well as partnering with other businesses in the area to drive more traffic this side,” Hydes speculated.

The reality, according to Hydes, was that most major businesses spend 7-14 per cent of their gross revenue on advertising. He pointed out that this unfortunately was not the case at Boatswain Beach, where only .5 per cent of gross revenue was the scenario, as it relates to advertising.

One of the major cost cutting measures that Boatswain Beach will be undergoing immediately is a closure of the facility once per week.

This is likely to happen on Sundays and should be effective as soon as possible, according to officials at the park.

At the moment, employees at Boatswain Beach say they have to really multi-task and do not have the luxury of special roles, as once was the case.

They say things have gotten a lot tighter but everyone is interested in the overall wellbeing of the park and no one is putting their self interests first.

While Mr. Hydes said he was cautiously optimistic about the future of the park, he acknowledged that everything hinged on the tourism market and that if this did not improve, “the forecast would not be sunny for anyone.”

He said with this in mind, he was not making an argument one way or the other for cruise ships over-nighting in the Cayman Islands and certainly would not go as far as saying that the success of businesses in the Cayman Islands was hinged on the gambling that would have to be accepted for this cruise ship stay over to become a reality.

Instead, Mr. Hydes said we had to make every effort to make our tourism product more robust and work together to make the Cayman Islands better off.

He added that he wanted to see more resident participation at the attraction and was open to partnering with community entities for events, concerts and other revenue creating ideas.