More heat from international turtle conservation groups washed over the Cayman Turtle Farm last week, as the facility defended itself from claims that it said were “at best misleading, and at worst untrue”.
Following a report released by the United Kingdom-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy blasted the farm for giving people what it called “a false impression that conservation of sea turtles in the wild can be accomplished simply by breeding turtles in tanks and … releasing them.”
In a response to the conservancy, released Thursday, the Turtle Farm noted there was no evidence that releasing captive turtles into the wild puts other turtles in danger.
“The allegation that our turtle releases endanger wild population by potentially spreading disease and genetic abnormalities is at best misleading and at worst untrue,” the farms said in a statement.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy Executive Director David Godfrey said the farm’s statement was wrong on a number of levels.
First, he said there are “well-documented” cases of diseases “found primarily” in captive turtle populations being spread to wild turtles. Second, the Turtle Farm turtles originate from many different areas in the wild.
“[This] means they have different genetics,” Mr. Godfrey said. “It could have far-reaching impacts on sea turtle navigation abilities and genetics.”
Third, is the false impression that is created by releasing the turtles, he said.
The Turtle Farm, in turn, disputes such assertions by the WSPA and the turtle conservancy.
“Through recent satellite-tagged turtle releases, we are also able to capture data on the behaviour of green sea turtles released into the wild; where they go and what they do, and thus far we have seen that the satellite-tracked turtles we have released into the wild have adapted well to their new habitat,” the farm stated.
Genetic mutation among turtles bred at the farm is an “incorrect claim” made by WSPA, according to the Turtle Farm. Officials at the facility said a veterinary review done at the Turtle Farm subsequent to the WSPA’s report found no turtles at the farm with the genetic defects alleged (blindness, health problems, diseases, etc).
“Cases of genetic mutation at the Cayman Turtle Farm are extremely rare,” officials said. The Sea Turtle Conservancy also noted the recent tragedy that killed 299 sea turtles at farm following a water line break.
The juvenile turtles, between the ages of 3 and 5 (green sea turtles can live anywhere from between 60 and 100 years or even longer in some cases) were trapped in holding tanks that the water drained out of following the line break.
“We lost some 299 turtles, which were all between the ages of 3 and 5 years old,” read a statement released by the Turtle Farm. “This loss has been very upsetting to the management and crew members involved in responding to the incident.” All of the animals that 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 Sea Turtle Conservancy said the incident highlighted the “neglect” that takes place at the Turtle Farm. “In a statement from the Cayman Turtle Farm to Wildlife Extra, they acknowledged that ‘in order to repair the pipe break and avoid a worsening flooding situation, the decision was made to cease pumping sea water into the farm through the main pipe system,” the conservancy statement read.
“In essence, once the tank was drained, the turtles were left piled on top of each other to cook to death under the Cayman sunshine,” Mr. Godfrey said. “It’s time to turn things around at the Cayman Turtle Farm, and there really is an opportunity to do something positive for sea turtles at this historical site.”
Turtle Farm officials have publicly expressed doubts that either the WSPA or the turtle conservancy have the facility’s best interests at heart. “There is no animal cruelty at the Cayman Turtle Farm,” the statement said. “We are trying to conserve these turtles and increase their numbers. Our efforts are devoted to their well being and care.”