The Cayman Turtle Farm may soon be
selling more than turtle meat.
“Right now, only 42 per cent of the
turtle by weight is being sold,” said Managing Director Tim Adam.
The back shells are simply
discarded, while the skin and fat are mixed into stew and menavelin.
“As a farm, we want to use as much of the
animals we spend so much effort nurturing and raising as possible, it is such a
shame we are throwing away so much of them,” he said.
He has high hopes for
turtle skin, which produces distinctive leather similar to alligator, while the
animals’ fat when processed can be made into high-value oil suitable for cosmetics
or medical use.
“It just seems wasteful to be using
these products for stew,” he said.
Mr. Adam said there are two ways to
sell the shell, also known as the calapash or the carapace: either in pieces or
whole as a decorative item.
He noted Chief Scientific Officer Joe Parsons is
qualified to cure turtle shells using a formaldehyde process.
“We are not ready to do it quite
yet,” he said.
“The equipment needs to be
assembled to cure them, as we definitely don’t want to sell low-quality shells that
have not been properly treated.”
He said he envisions selling cured
shells to crafts people for about $100, who could then polish and resell them
as decorative items, with the final product retailing from $500 to $1,000,
depending on the size. The shells would be tagged to identify them as originating
from the Turtle Farm.
“The nice thing about farmed sea
turtle shells is that they are much prettier than the shells from wild turtles,”
said Mr. Adam.
“They have beautiful colours and
are in much better condition.”
Mr. Adam says that for now, the
focus will have to be on the local market only.
Because marine turtles are
endangered, commercial trade in all turtle products is prohibited under the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,
which regulates the international trade in endangered species.
The Department of Environment
website notes this prohibition also applies to products derived from the
captive turtles at the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm and will not change until the
Farm attains status as a CITES Registered Captive-breeding facility.
Until then, anyone caught by Cayman
or overseas customs taking turtle products out of the Cayman Islands without
the proper permits faces confiscation of the products, fines or imprisonment.
Provided the Turtle Farm is not
trading internationally, complying with CITES will not be a factor in the plans
for turtle shell sales.
However, Mr. Adam thinks the
restrictions on international trade may one day be overcome, at least somewhat.
“Considering Cayman is a British
territory, it’s possible that trade between the UK and its territories may not
be considered international,” said Mr. Adam.
“The UK is keen to see Cayman
develop sustainable economic activities, and with a little help from the
relevant UK authorities, we might be able establish trade in a way that does
not violate international agreements.”
Mr. Adam also hopes to make use of
unhatched turtle eggs, which are discarded.
“Every year we end up having thousands of eggs
that will never hatch, which we can determine within days of them being laid,” he
The plan is to sell the cooked eggs
at Schooner’s restaurant.
Mr. Adam thinks the oil, the
leather and the shell products would likely yield much more commercial value than
the meat, especially if the market opens up.
“I see no good reason why consumers
in the UK for example could not be enjoying our oil and leather,” he said.
“This would give our Islands a
product for export and help the economy.”
The shells of turtles at the
Boatswain’s Beach Turtle Farm could become a hot commodity and money maker for
the venture. Photo: Tammie C. Chisholm