Animal protection group slams Turtle Farm

A report made public Monday reveals findings that allege potentially dangerous bacteria in the waters, crippled turtles as the result of disease and cannibalism and massive long-standing financial problems at the Cayman Turtle Farm.

The report, completed following months of on-site and international research by the United Kingdom-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, makes a case for ending the commercial production of green sea turtles at the facility in Grand Cayman – the world’s only remaining turtle farm operation.

“WSPA has conducted a detailed assessment and has concluded that under its current operational model the farm is; unable to meet the welfare needs of the animals under its care, a threat to wild turtle conservation efforts, a threat to human health and financially unsustainable,” the WSPA report states.

The world-recognised animal rights’ group advised that there are ways for the facility to turn itself into a different kind of operation, focusing on research and rescue of injured sea turtles.

Cayman Turtle Farm officials, responding after a copy of the report was sent to them on Friday by the Caymanian Compass, stated that the WSPA’s effort to shut down the farm’s operations was “incompatible with the WSPA’s claims that the organisation hopes to assist the Cayman Turtle Farm to transition to a model the WSPA finds 
more acceptable to its aims”.

In their statement, Turtle Farm officials said they met with the WSPA in both Cayman and the UK to discuss concerns. It was through those discussions, the farm managers said, that an independent review of the facility’s operations was agreed to be started in December.

“It has been clearly stated that the decision to alter the business model and objectives of the Cayman Turtle Farm would require a decision by the Cayman Islands Cabinet,” Turtle Farm officials said in their Friday statement, indicating a timeline was agreed to enable further “high-level” discussions to take place.

“The WSPA has instead embarked on a smear campaign to coerce the Cayman Turtle Farm to submit to the WSPA’s demands, despite the fact that their allegations are unfounded, erroneous and sensationalised,” the Turtle Farm statement read.

The Cayman Islands government also released the following statement in response to the WSPA report on Friday: “By calling for a cessation of commercial farming under the guise of concerns over animal welfare, it appears that the internationally-based WSPA is attempting to alter the culture of the Cayman Islands without understanding the history of this small country or its people.

“Moreover, their objective clearly disregards the important role the Cayman Turtle Farm plays in turtle conservation and they appear to be unconcerned about the ramifications that the cessation of commercial farming would have on turtle populations in the wild.”


Turtle health 

The WSPA report contains some graphic photos of turtles missing fins, sporting various injuries, even a turtle that was left blind 
by congenital defects.

The report opined that the Turtle Farm was failing to meet “baseline welfare criteria” for the animals.

Due to proximity of the turtles to one another in the tanks, the WSPA observers noted lesions and diseases “directly related to co-occupant aggression and cannibalism”. Diseases observed at the farm “since its formation”, the WSPA said, included chlamydiosis, grey patch disease and lung-eye trachea disease.

Water quality in the turtle holding tanks was observed to be poor and a diet of mainly fish food pellets was not deemed to be the “natural adult diet” of sea grass or turtle grass as it is often called in Cayman. General neglect and overcrowding of the turtles was also alleged by WSPA observers.

The Cayman Turtle Farm’s statement rejected the WSPA claims.

“We found no evidence of the kinds of injuries or defects among the turtles reared at our facility that the WSPA is listing in its assertions against us,” the statement read. “It should be … noted, that once the WSPA approached the Cayman Turtle Farm with their claims, we immediately initiated a thorough review of our operations, and found no basis for their sensational allegations.

“It is also completely erroneous for the WSPA to claim that we are rearing and slaughtering diseased or defective turtles for meat. Any turtles among the population with congenital defects are humanely euthanised.”


Human health  

Based on its research, the WSPA stated its belief that the Cayman Turtle Farm represents a “potential threat to human health”.

While the group noted that the risk of infection to healthy humans from wild turtles is relatively low for many pathogens, it also stated that water samples taken from different enclosures at the farm revealed the presence of E coli bacteria, Salmonella and other pathogens.

“Independent water sampling revealed the presence of pathogenic bacterium (Aeromonas, E coli, Vibrio and Salmonella) in the farm’s sea turtle ‘touch tanks’,” the WSPA stated.

The Turtle Farm stated that all animal handling protocols follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for handling of reptiles.

“In over 40 years of operation, with hundreds of thousands of visitors to our facility every year and number in the millions in total – all interacting with the turtles resident here, we have not had one single known case of transmission of illness to our guests or our crew members,” farm officials said.

“Prior to the claims by the WSPA, the Cayman Islands government has never been confronted with allegations or claims of evidence of animal cruelty, nor has there been any suggestion whatsoever of risks to the health and safety of visitors who enjoy the attraction,” the government’s statement read.

The Turtle Farm said Saturday that it routinely monitors water quality in its saltwater swimming lagoon with weekly tests conducted by Water Authority-Cayman for faecal bacteria, E coli and enterococci.

“Tests have shown our levels are consistently well below internationally accepted thresholds for safe swimming standards,” according to a follow-up statement sent to the Caymanian Compass on Saturday evening. “As an added precaution, beginning 7 September we started salmonella testing in our saltwater swimming lagoon and saltwater wading touch tank. Both of these enclosures contain young green sea turtles that tourists can either swim or interact with. Results have been mixed. The initial test on 7 September showed no salmonella in our saltwater lagoon and presence of salmonella in the wading touch tank. A second test showed salmonella in both enclosures.”

Farm officials also noted that salmonella is a risk to human health only if ingested.



WSPA representatives also raised questions about whether the marine replenishment efforts of the Turtle Farm, releasing farm turtles into the wild, actually relieved some of pressures of poaching on wild stocks.

“There are significant reasons to believe that it does not,” the organisation stated.

The WSPA opined that “evidence suggests local Caymanians prefer wild turtle meat to farmed meat” and that recent price increases instituted by the farm may have put many Cayman Islands residents out of the market for farm-raised meat anyway.

Moreover, releasing farm turtles into the wild could have a negative impact on turtle populations there if the farm turtles are transmitting diseases, the WSPA report stated.

The Turtle Farm responded by stating much of the scientific data on various turtle breeds could not be obtained anywhere other than the farm itself and that the WSPA “makes light” of the 31,000 turtles released in the wild by the farm over the years.

In particular, 2012 has been a banner year for turtle breeding in Cayman, both in the wild and at the farm, officials said. Some 41,000 eggs have been laid at the Turtle Farm this year with a higher hatch rate than has been seen recently.

The farm is planning a release of 150 turtles later in the year, the farm’s statement indicated.

“To further its own aims, the WSPA, in its goal to shut down our operations, is using every tactic imaginable and attacking all angles of the important work the Cayman Turtle Farm has been doing over the past 40 years,” farm officials stated in the Friday release.

The WSPA made a number of claims regarding the financial sustainability of the Cayman Turtle Farm, which will be reported in a separate story by this newspaper.

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  1. Salmonella in both public pools/tanks… mmmm
    I won’t be going there again :/

    I always found it a bit dubious? On the one side of the road ‘look at the lovely turtles’… on the other side of the road… ‘And this is where we kill them to eat’.

    I agree that the focus should be more on conservation and animal welfare and not on production.

    With all the reports we have seen recently it is clear that the turtle farm in it’s curretnform and with is curretn financial state is not able to manage all that it is trying to do.

    My advice… downsize, focus on the animals, do halve as much but do it right!

    Who’s idea was it anyway to turn it in to the circus it is today?

  2. It needs to change. As an attraction it is tacky; the turtles are obviously cramped, their lives must be pretty miserable, and then they get slaughtered.

    The actual demand for turtle meat cannot be that high, that we need to keep so many of these turtles?

    Look at independant reviews on tripadvisor, plenty of visitors see this place for what it is.

  3. I remember the old turtle farm and going there as an elementry student; learning about our past and the conservation efforts of the farm.

    Now it is just an under-used/overpriced attraction and a financial drain on an already suffering government. I agree that the focus should switch from commercialising to informing.

  4. Initially, the Turtle Farm was all about CONSERVING, PROTECTING, and RESTORING the animal life so they can be release back into the wild – not eating them, selling them, or using them for tourist attraction.

    Put them back into the sea where tourists will be able to see them there and fishermen will be able to fish them like they do to the other marine animals – that is where you get fresh seafood. Give the turtles there freedom – don’t lock them down in contaminated pools for life. Sorry but releasing 150 turtles when you have over 10,000 of them doesn’t cut the cake. 1000 to a 1500 each year would be a better number.

  5. As long as they are endangered no one should want or be able to eat them or even capture them. They need protection and respect, they are beautiful, intelligent and long lived creatures and some of them have been around long before us and our parents.

    People should see this place for what it is, a farm hence the name ‘Turtle Farm’. This place has nothing to do with conservation and everything to with farming ,all those turtles are just livestock. With all those tanks in there that place could be a great tourist attraction as an aquarium and research center.

    Stop the madness, Eat Lionfish not Turtles, they are the ones destroying the ecosystem..

  6. Too bad that the turtle farm and govt are so upset about the comments, when they react like that it just makes it seem that they are hiding something… could be an audit trail or the stupid idea.
    Do they even have turtle meat on the menu over there?

  7. I don’t agree with the WSPA . I also believe that they are sensationalizing their claims of what they think is going on.
    First of all the Turtle farm was created by renowned scientist Archie Carr who has a National Refuge in Fla. named after him. He was the person who thought that farming would work . What he wanted was to allow native people all around the world to be able to stop harvesting the sea turtles because they believed that green sea turtles were a very important food source and was declining in population. So If he could farm them, they would continue to be a food source irregardless of this decline.

    But it is historical from the 1800’s that the governor of Jamaica had wrote to the King that turtles would become endangered if something was not done about the sailing vessels stopping in Cayman to pick up turtle provisions before going back to Europe.
    So its been a long time that people have been saying that the population has been going down.
    Dr. Wood took over the farm along with other scientists who of course were not from Cayman. The farm was successful thru the period of German financing but those environmentalists had to play the emotional card. Poor intelligent creature or how beautiful.
    Hey what about chickens? My cows would come to me when I called them by name. Don’t chicken walk all over the place ? So do they like to be in a coop? I don’t know ask them. How about that food we feed them while we ready them before the slaughter. Chickens usually eat roaches ,worms and a lot more stuff you don’t want to know about. Chicken coops is a new idea. Didn’t hurt anyone before for 1000s of years.
    As you read this other side of the story ,you will notice I never called it the Zoo, the reserve etc. I called it the FARM. It has always been called the turtle farm. When tourists pay for their tour they know they are going to a farm . They also know we eat turtle.
    People who might complain about the farm are usually people who have never seen their mother or grandmother wring the neck of a chicken. Well unless you’re in Asia you’re going to have to kill it before you cook it. That is the humane thing to do.
    When children hold the young turtles in the holding tanks ( which you can see if you go there ) they sometimes hold them wrong and so they flap their fins. It is easy to correct just slide your hands higher and they will calm down. They are not stressed anymore then a baby being held incorrectly. The tanks will get algae because of the sun, along the walls of the tanks . The attendants clean the tanks regularly like you clean your pool . But the turtles are vegetarians so they can eat the algae too. The floating excrement will flush out . You will notice that the water in the tanks have a flow like a current round and round which helps to exercise the turtles and help with flushing materiel. The pictures of foul water is no more then food being eaten by the turtles and the FOOD mixing with the water for about 15-30 mins. before it becomes clear again .
    I have a dog in fact I ‘ve had one or two dogs throughout all my life. I have normally kept them outside where they can roam around free chasing rats, cayman rabbit ,cats, people and iguana you name it. Today has changed a lot of the ways we have had to live our lives. But one thing that I have noticed about domesticated animals . They can be naturally nasty eating stuff thats stinking the whole yard. Turtles in Cayman’s Turtle Farm are clean very clean .They really don’t have as bad an odor as cattle.
    So the tanks that appear to have a lot of turtles in them really don’t. Yeah thats right, The scientists that first figured out how many turtles could be in a tank explained to me that when the tank is empty they only put a turtle in if he has space , next to each other. I asked if really that wasn’t crowded and he said no because a third would be on the surface and a third would be on the bottom resting and the other third would be in the middle. Please go to the farm and check what I’m saying to prove it to yourself. When you walk to a tank thats not feeding .Notice that more turtles will be congregated to one side almost on top of each other and there is enough space for each turtle to lay on the bottom separately .
    Fellow Caymanians have faith and loyalty for each other. We are good people we have been doing this project from 1968 surely we must know what we are doing and are the most qualified people to ask . How many farms has this group managed? How many Turtle scientists do they have in their employ? Most scientist who specialize in this field have had to come to Cayman to write their research paper. Now what does that tell you?

  8. The hatch and release is working quite well from what I see. Growing up here in Cayman I can tell you I have never seen so many turtles feeding along the shores. The idea of the farm is replenishment and it is working. Take a look in the turtle grass behind the public beach at Spots and you should agree.

    The show and tell aspect of the conservation effort may require some work, but soon some will be crying that there are too many feral turtles on the beach.