Online poll takers support Turtle Farm

The Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter once again wishes to respond to a recent article published in the Caymanian Compass, under the headline ‘Online poll Majority: Turtle Farm should be sold, leased’.

The headline may lead readers to believe that Compass poll participants believe the government should abandon the farm – and we think this is rather misleading.

In fact, we think the poll, while not scientific, reflects reasonably well on the Turtle Farm. While calling for some degree of change, the ballot indicates that most people feel as we do about the facility: that the farm provides a valuable service; that it is an important element in promoting, preserving and protecting local culture; and that it behooves the government and people of the Cayman Islands to have such a unique, world-class and scientifically respected resource.

According to poll results, nearly 47 per cent of respondents think the farm should be sold or leased to investors on the condition they keep it open.

Additionally, another almost-one-third of respondents, 32.8 per cent, think ownership of the farm is best in government hands, but should be better managed.

The numbers appear to indicate that nearly 80 per cent of those who participated in the 25 March poll would like to see the farm remain open, operating and part of the Cayman Islands tourist industry, a cultural attraction, a repository of traditional values and a carefully protected source for the historical Caymanian diet.

Only one in six respondents seem to think shuttering the place would be best.

I would also point out that the most recent edition of the Cayman Islands twice-yearly Omnibus Survey found that 72.3 per cent of the resident population felt a “sense of national pride” regarding the Cayman Turtle Farm.

These results are a far cry from the 24 February suggestion in a Caymanian Compass editorial that we simply “turn out the lights” at the Turtle Farm, a deeply misguided notion.

Amidst the melee of numbers and proposals the only real question appears to be what kind of management might be most effective at the farm: Would the private sector or the public sector be the best steward, the most advantageous master, of this quintessentially Cayman interest?

It is an excellent question and only time will reveal the right answer. The present management and board are absolutely committed to turning around the fortunes of the Turtle Farm, and part of that means facing the anomalies, the errors and the occasional unfortunate decisions of the past.

We have pointed out in previous letters that this process is already well in hand. Excessive salaries, questionable loans, ill-advised advances, over staffing and overspending have largely been investigated and corrected; money has been paid back, budgets reduced and checks and balances put in place.

Former Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller in December called the Turtle Farm “a good news story” because the organisation had at last updated its financial accounts, which had earlier, admittedly, fallen into arrears.

In addition, we recently learned that foreign interests have expressed interest in a possible purchase or some sort of administrative role at the farm. The reports suggested that either those same investors or perhaps another one from the same region might wish to add a jetty to accommodate cruise tenders to bring passengers ashore at a point that is very much nearer to the Turtle Farm than the present cruise terminal.

We would welcome the opportunity to review those plans, should they be forthcoming. At this point, however, there are actually a range of possibilities for the future ownership structure of the Farm. To the best of my knowledge, nothing has been discounted as “off the table”. The board and management team of the Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter is open to all discussions and I believe they would conscientiously weigh every option – as long as the choices put before them are both viable and positively contribute to the greater public interest.

This does suggest that an ultimate resolution is unlikely in the immediate term, but it also means the farm’s management team intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of better administration, greater efficiency, higher revenues, improved accountability and sustained fiscal transparency.

Tim Adam

Managing director

Cayman Turtle Farm: Island Wildlife Encounter

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