299 turtles die after water line break

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.”  


Turtle breeding 

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.  

Turtle Farm

A water line break caused almost 300 turtles to die at the Turtle Farm in West Bay. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

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  1. Very sorry to hear about the loss of turtles.

    But 8 to 9 million in subsidies? Failed business model that should have gone bankrupt long ago. When will the government stop throwing away money. Remember the public gas depot fiasco? Cayman Air Panama junket? Tempura investigation? Cruse ship berthing payment to the Italian company that was dropped for no reason?

    No wonder they can’t get a budget. Not sure if corruption or just plain ignorance that is responsible for the fiscal problems. Maybe it is the tremendous amount of public sector employees needed to run manage so few citizens. The proposed expat tax is hardly a drop in the bucket and does nothing to get the islands back on track.

  2. Probably the best thing for them, they only had a future of aimlessly milling around in a tiny enclosed space, to be slaughtered whenever they were ‘ready’.

    I can see why this place exists, and the role it can play in protecting turtles, but for the most part, the cruise ship tourists probably don’t reflect on the fact that the cute little turtle in their hands is going to be slaughtered for meat.

    In monetary terms too – how much would it have cost to keep and feed 299 turtles for between 3-5 years? I reckon about ‘a lot’.

  3. After 40 years of operation and there is no contingency plan to follow in the event the water supply gets compromised? This is unbelievable. There was sufficient time in that the impacted turtles could have been released into the sea across the street to avoid their demise. I suppose the powers that be preferred to let them die than to set them free.

  4. Why did it take two weeks for this to be made public?

    Have to agree with Pattieman. The turtles at Turtle Farm live deplorable unnatural lives in this concentration camp. They should all be released and allowed to live freely. It’s heinous that the CIG should pay millions for this animal torture farm. A turtle tourist
    attraction could be devised that could be run profitably and according to global zoo standards of animal welfare.

  5. What’s sad is, they are not telling how they fired the staff worker that caused this INNOCENT ACCIDENT. Just another Caymanian on the the UNEMPLOYED list. Waiting to hear what Nationality will be his replacement!!!

  6. Pro Caymanian, without knowing the details it is hard to comment on this, however, if I was somehow responsible for the deaths of 299 turtles, I wouldn’t be fired, I’d resign.

    Stepping down from a position seems a problem around here. Politicians in particular don’t know when they should quit, so I suppose why would anyone else?