Nearly 300 juvenile turtles died in mid-July after a water line break affected the water supply to some of the turtle tanks at the Cayman Turtle Farm in West Bay.
“We lost some 299 turtles, which were all between the ages of three- and five-years-old,” read a statement released by the Turtle Farm on Tuesday. “This loss has been very upsetting to the management and crew members involved in responding to the incident.”
All of the animals who died in the incident were Green Sea Turtles, according to farm spokesperson Tina Trumbach. The animals had to be disposed of and could not be harvested for sale of turtle meat, according to farm officials.
According to a statement from the Turtle Farm, one of the large water pipes carrying seawater from a pumping station developed a crack underground on Monday, 16 July. The water leak flooded the road and in order to make repairs the tourism attraction had to stop pumping sea water into the farm location through the pipe system.
The operation requires several hundred thousand gallons of fresh sea water to be pumped into the farm continuously to ensure safety and living conditions for the sea turtles.
“This water flow ceased during the diagnosis and repair of the pipe break,” the turtle farm statement indicated.
Repairs to the underground pipe required heavy equipment and on-site contractors that took several hours to finish. Additional water pumps were brought in as the farm attempted to maintain water levels and circulation in the tanks.
Water was fully back on to the facility on Tuesday 17, 2012, according to the statement.
The 299 turtles lost represent less than five per cent of the total number of turtles kept at the farm, which is used largely as a breeding facility for the animals.
“Immediately after repairs were completed and water pumping operations returned to normal, the management team at the Cayman Turtle Farm met to review the incident and put improved mitigating procedures and systems into place,” the statement noted.
“We are now implementing new procedures and emergency back-up water supply systems aimed at avoiding a similar loss of turtles in any future main water loss situation. Additionally, the core water pumping and piping system at the farm is being monitored and some key valves that failed are being replaced, with new parts and components already on order to be installed upon arrival.”
The cost of such repairs for the facility, which does receive about $8 million to $9 million in subsidies from the Cayman Islands government each year, were not immediately known.
“The responsible stewardship of the animals in our care is a responsibility that we take very seriously and our crew works hard and diligently every day to ensure that safe and optimal operating conditions are maintained,” the Turtle Farm statement indicated. “We remain saddened by this recent loss – the first of its kind in the Cayman Turtle Farm’s 40-plus years in existence.”
Shortly after the water line break, an Island-wide power outage hit Cayman on 25 July. This sidelined the turtle farm’s seaside pumps again for about six or seven hours.
“Some of the new system setups that were put in place since the incident with the broke pipe have proven their worth,” the farm’s statement read. “We were able to get through that without any…loss of our animals.”
Since taking the helm at the turtle farm, managing director Tim Adam has implemented several measures in an attempt to boost the number of turtle hatchlings.
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 told the Legislative Assembly in 2010 that officials had begun feeding the breeding turtles an enhanced formula one lawmaker referred to as “turtle Viagra”.
Mr. Adam also said the turtle farm staff has 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.