Turtle Farm salaries cut

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In addition to layoffs earlier this
year that affected 21 employees, staff members at the Cayman Islands Turtle
Farm/Boatswain’s Beach facility were required to take between a 5 per cent and
15 per cent pay cut.

The pay reduction took effect on 1
July for all remaining staff at the tourism and turtle breeding facility,
affecting approximately 85 people. Prior to the staff cuts, Turtle
Farm/Boatswain’s Beach officials said there were 108 people employed at the
West Bay operation.

“We are aiming to…as much as
possible, take decisive action to reduce the amount of deficit from operations
and to cut down the equity injection we receive from government,’ the
facility’s managing director, Tim Adam, said this week.

In prior years, the Turtle
Farm/Boatswain’s Beach facility has received as much as $10 million per budget
year in government subsidies as well as some loans to keep the struggling
operation afloat. 

According to board meeting minutes
obtained through an open records request, all staff earning less than $30,000
per year received a 5 per cent pay cut; staff making between $30,000 and
$50,000 received a 10 per cent pay cut; and those earning more than $50,000 per
year got a 15 per cent pay cut starting 1 July.

Mr. Adam said the Turtle Farm had
attempted a number of other cost reduction or revenue enhancement measures over
the past year, including raising the price of turtle meat. So far, the changes
appear to be working, he said.

“A reduction in the number of crew
members and pay has had the effect we anticipated,” Mr. Adam said.

Job cuts

Mr. Adam has previously said that
deciding to cut jobs was an “agonising” process.

“But after initiating many
cost-saving efficiencies, there was a need to further reduce costs,” he said
earlier this year. “We had to look at our personnel costs.”

Mr. Adam said those who were laid
off were given assistance in finding new employment, reference letters and
support from the Turtle Farm, including counselling.

According to the Turtle Farm Board
meeting minutes obtained through the open records request, the position of each
individual affected during the layoff process was considered by members.

“This was necessary to ensure the
continued viability of the operation, while taking into account the
shareholder’s (government’s) resolve toward a continued reduction in its
subsidy of our operation,” the minutes stated.

At one point in 2008, the
Boatswain’s Beach facility was losing up to $500,000 per month on its operating
costs. In recent years, those costs have been reduced, but the facility was
still losing money each month through the end of the previous financial year –
30 June, 2010. 

Government has poured more than $20
million into the tourism attraction to make up its operating losses since 2004,
not including loans it has made to the facility.

Turtle breeding

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.

Mr. Adam said in June 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 a dietary
supplement was being fed to the turtles in the hopes of increasing the birth
rate.

As of last month, Turtle Farm
officials said it was too early to determine whether 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 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 the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species relaxes standards for Cayman on trading green sea
turtle parts.

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Visitors to Boatswain’s Beach admire the turtles.
Photo: Stephen Clarke
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