The Cayman Turtle Farm on Wednesday fired back against an international animal rights group that accused the farming operation of essentially rigging a review of the facility conducted between 10-12 December in its favour.
“The primary goal of the independent assessment … is to determine whether standards of care meet those required to ensure that the operation is conducted in a ‘humane manner’,” a Turtle Farm statement released Wednesday evening noted.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals, or WSPA, was the agency that initially undertook a covert investigation at the Turtle Farm finding what the agency stated was evidence of Salmonella and E. Coli contamination in the turtle tanks, evidence of cruel and inhumane treatment and evidence of high mortality rates and some birth defects among the turtle population. The group stated from the outset that it is generally opposed to harvesting of turtle meat for commercial sale.
The WSPA’s Neil D’Cruze recently indicated his organisation’s “extreme concern” about the independent review the Turtle Farm is undertaking, particularly its intention to compare the operation to “intensive livestock farming”.
“Green sea turtles are not domesticated animals and so should not be compared to standards, which are meant to be applied to animals which are,” Mr. D’Cruze wrote in an e-mail responding to Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam last month.
Mr. D’Cruze also indicated that the Turtle Farm’s independent reviewers were not identified by name and that none of them appeared to have a background in “animal welfare”.
Wednesday’s statement indicated the Turtle Farm’s view that there are no ways to compare the Cayman Turtle Farm to any other operation in the world, since it is the only sea turtle farming facility that exists.
“The WSPA takes issue with this, arguing that the turtle is not a domesticated species,” the Turtle Farm statement read. “However, neither were pigs, cows or chickens – until they were, in fact, farmed and domesticated.”
The Turtle Farm also responded by saying that the four individuals selected to perform the review at the facility were independent experts that had never been paid by the Cayman Islands government in the past. The experts performing the review include:
George Balazs is a sea turtle scientist with 40 years of professional experience in Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and globally. He has published more than 100 journal papers on sea turtles. He has been a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group since 1976 and is the group’s vice chairman for the Pacific Islands Region. In 2002, the leading conservation organisation in the United States, the National Wildlife Federation, honoured Mr. Balazs with its National Conservation Achievement Award for exemplary leadership in protecting wildlife and natural resources. He recently completed a three-year term on an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which ensures that animal welfare is humanely addressed. In March 2012, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Sea Turtle Symposium.
Dr. Annette Broderick is a senior lecturer in conservation biology. She has been researching marine turtle populations for more than 20 years, with much of her work focusing on the British Overseas Territories, including the Cayman Islands. Her research focuses on the conservation and monitoring of marine turtle populations, in particular reproductive investment; impacts of temperature on hatchling production; migration and navigation of adults and the management of marine turtle harvests. She is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group.
Dr. Thierry Work is a veterinarian and a wildlife disease expert with 20 years of professional experience in Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and globally on diseases of sea turtles. He is credited with more than 40 journal papers on sea turtles. He is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and the IUCN Wildlife Health Specialist Group.
Professor Brendan Godley is a marine conservation scientist and qualified veterinarian who has been working on marine turtles around the world for more than 20 years. He is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Professor Godley was selected by the United Kingdom Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to conduct an inspection in 2002 on the Cayman Turtle Farm. He also serves on the IUCN Veterinary Specialist Group, and the Turtle Implementation Group for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for Marine Turtles.
“We stand by our assertion that it would be less ‘independent’ to include a WSPA representative on the team, as this would introduce its own bias – as would including a member of the Cayman Turtle Farm staff on the review committee,” the Turtle Farm statement noted. “For this reason, neither a WSPA representative nor a Cayman Turtle Farm representative are included on the team.”
The review of the Turtle Farm operations is expected to be complete by the end of January.