Turtle farm takes stock

Breeding reviewed

The Cayman Turtle Farm/Boatswain’s
Beach facility is hoping better nutrition and a more prolific breeding stock
will increase the number of sea turtles available for consumption as well as
for release into the wild.

Managing Director Tim Adam told the
Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee last month that prior to the start of
this year’s turtle breeding season, farm staff weighed all turtles in the
breeding pond, removed non-productive breeders and added a few new female
turtles to the pond in hopes of increasing numbers.

He also noted that what one
Legislative Assembly member referred to as “turtle Viagra” was being fed to the
animals.

“We have begun feeding the breeders
with a feed that has some enhancement to it,” Mr. Adam said.

It’s too early in the breeding
season to determine if the measures have had any effect.

Turtle birth rates at the farm have
decreased steadily over the years. Once there were 20,000 sea turtles at the
facility, but that number has recently dwindled to 7,000.

Mr. Adam said the turtle farm staff
also removed all first-generation turtles– those that were captured in the
wild – from the breeding pond.

This is a move aimed to convince
international authorities that Cayman’s turtle stock is not being taken from
the wild. Mr. Adam hopes that Cayman eventually could trade its turtle
products, including meat and shells, abroad if CITES (Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species) relaxes standards for Cayman on trading green sea
turtle parts.

Mr. Adam said the weeding-out
exercise had not been done for a number of years at the turtle farm.

Earlier this year, the farm sharply
increased its sale prices for turtle meat, which is considered a Caymanian
delicacy. That price increase has led to a major drop in demand.

The contracting demand means fewer
turtles are being taken from the facility to provide the meat, Mr. Adam said.

“The resulting rate that we needed to
harvest turtle…is well within what we needed to maintain the population,” he
said.

Opposition Leader Kurt Tibbetts
asked whether turtle farm officials planned to increase production and so lead
to lower prices for turtle meat.

“What Mr. Adam has said to me kind
of sounds like we’re cool with this,” he said, referring to the higher prices
for turtle meat. “Fact of the matter is its part of our heritage.”

Mr. Adam said it was the turtle
farm’s goal that the meat supply be sustained on a long-term basis.

“Had we continued consumption of
turtle at the rate we had been consuming them, we would have had something like
a year and a half of them left,” Mr. Adam said.

Premier McKeeva Bush supported this
view.

“You can fill up on it today if you
want, but tomorrow you don’t have it,” Mr. Bush said. “Now, what sense does
that make?”

Other lawmakers expressed doubts
that Cayman would be able to get a ban on turtle product sales overseas lifted.

“I don’t think you’ll ever be able
to ship turtle meat through the United States,” North Side MLA Ezzard Miller
said.

Mr. Adam said taking turtles from
the wild to add to the turtle farm stock would likely not improve production
numbers at the farm, in any case. He said it would set Cayman back decades in
terms of dealing with the international community.

“If we ever want to have a hope of
(selling turtle products outside Cayman), we don’t want to work against it –
particularly if the gain isn’t very large,” Mr. Adam said.

Sales of turtle meat typically
account for about 10 per cent of the total earnings made at the Turtle
Farm/Boatswain’s Beach facility.

Mr. Adam said turtle meat prices
would continue to be reviewed from time to time to see if a reduction could be
made. However, he said lowering the prices at the moment would likely mean
selling below the costs of production.

LOCALturtleSTORY

Steps have been taken to increase breeding at the Turtle Farm.
Photo: Stephen Clarke
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