We read the 16 March letter to the
editor, written by Emile S. Levy, and while we are pleased to see the
considerable interest from both the author, specifically and the wider public
generally, we felt that the public interest would best be served by correcting
a couple of modest errors and restating the case for the Cayman Turtle Farm:
Island Wildlife Encounter.
Mr. Levy’s broad concern is for the
amount of money – nearly $28 million remains outstanding on our bond – that the
government has poured into the farm. He asks what benefits have accrued to the
people of the Cayman Islands in respect of that investment.
We can get to grips with some of
the answers by reviewing the relevant history of the farm, founded in 1968 as a
private enterprise to domesticate the green sea turtle. The facility, from its
very beginning, has always been intended for the dual proposes of commercial
farming and a conservation and research facility.
Mr. Levy appears, however, to cast
our conservation and research functions as an effort to boost the number of
turtles “coming back to our shores like they did in the past”.
Our conservation efforts are not so
much an attempt to encourage their return to Cayman as they are simply to
achieve sustainable population levels and indeed a thriving population in the
wild. While, yes, this is frequently linked to their homecoming, returning to
our beaches is not absolutely necessary for propagation of the species. We go far above and beyond that by
collaborating with various universities and other institutions to conduct
research, publish or present scientific papers that develop and disseminate
knowledge that is invaluable to those persons around the world who engage in
the work of helping ensure the well-being of wild sea turtle populations.
Mr. Levy suggests that two things
reversed the Turtle Farm’s early success: the devastation of Hurricane Ivan and
the subsequent reconstruction of the facility into a 23-acre marine park, with
several attractions in addition to its turtles.
Hurricane Ivan in 2004 proved the
wisdom of having rebuilt the farm on higher ground farther away from the sea.
Actually, it was the wave action from Hurricane Michelle in 2001 that
precipitated the move across the road and even then that is only part of the
cause of the farm’s recent financial struggles. The biggest blow came in 1981
when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and
Fauna listed the green sea turtle on Appendix 1, prohibiting all cross-border
trade in turtles or their parts, further exacerbated by CITES’ repeated refusal
to certify Cayman Turtle Farm as a “captive breeding facility” for sea turtles,
which it very clearly is!
Overnight, the turtle farm lost
most of its ability to buy and sell in overseas markets, to trade in component
parts, even to sell such souvenirs, all from captive-bred animals, as shells or
jewellery to tourists. The idea for the farm’s recent reconstruction came in
fact in 2001 after Hurricane Michelle irreparably damaged the facility. Design
meetings among planning teams, construction engineers, members of the public
and representatives from both the government and the private sector, together
with discussions with cruise lines, indicated that the new Boatswain’s Beach
would be among the most exciting and certainly unique tourist attractions in
the Caribbean. Indeed there has been some notable success in that regard.
Mr. Levy appears to believe that
the government wants the Turtle Farm to fail: “This will give them an excuse to
use the money from our treasury to support a failing theme park”. I would have
to point out that this suggestion is, to say the least, incongruous.
He cites “fat salaries”, “large
loans”, “under the table deals”, “bar tabs” and “God knows what else” to explain
how annual government subsidies to the farm are spent.
Nearly two-thirds of the farm’s
$9.3 million for 2009/10 is for debt servicing. In the past, relatively higher
salaries were paid. Unfortunate loans and/or salary advances were either
offered or taken, all of which, by the way, have been thoroughly investigated
by the Auditor General and have been paid back.
Recognising these anomalies, the
farm has promulgated strict rules, putting in place checks and balances to
prevent these sorts of abuses in the future. Indeed, former Public Accounts
Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller in December called the Cayman Turtle farm a
“good news story” as we brought up to date its previously outstanding audited
We have cut the number of employees
at the park by some 20 per cent, and reduced by between 5 per cent and 15 per
cent the salaries of those that remain. There are certainly no “fat salaries”
being paid now. Although exact salaries of individuals is not considered
appropriate for release under Freedom of Information and Confidential
Relationships rules, I can assure the public that I am the highest paid person
employed by the farm and I do consider I have the authority to divulge my own
If any resident of these Islands
wants to know my salary I would invite them to call me on the phone and find
out directly for themselves provided they in turn undertake that they will not
publish the figure. Let’s avoid doing anything that comes across as distasteful.
However we – and I – have nothing to hide in regard to the salaries we pay, so
let’s put this matter to rest once and for all.
A recent national survey revealed
that 72.3 per cent of Cayman residents had “a sense of national pride” in the
Cayman Turtle Farm. That is not surprising; because it is a unique facility
replicated nowhere else in the world, with deep roots in the spirit and
tradition of the nation going all the way back to our Islands’ discovery in
1503. While we do not deny that mistakes have been made and that problems,
occasionally self-inflicted, have made the waters rough at times, we also
believe that the people of Cayman have much to be proud of – and as we steadily
and incrementally restore the financial health and improve the physical plant
and guest experience at the farm, the people of Cayman will have even more to
point to with pride and admiration.