Investigation into Turtle Farm complete

An independent report on the standard of care at the Cayman Turtle Farm has found that several turtles have severe skin lesions and some are emaciated, but found no hazards to the health of visitors to the attraction.

The report did not find any evidence of health issues involving people who handle turtles at the farm and highlighted the farm’s conservation benefits by supplying a legal source of turtle meat, thus giving an alternative to poaching, according to tourism minister Cline Glidden, who gave a brief summary of the report in Thursday’s weekly government press conference.

Four marine conservation and sea turtle specialists – George Balazs, Annette Broderick, Brendan Godley and Thierry Work – carried out inspections at the Turtle Farm in December and have now delivered their findings to the Turtle Farm and the ministry.

“The government is ready to address the issues that have come in regards to what was seen as a very negative PR campaign against the farm,” said Mr. Glidden.

He was referring to a widely publicised report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals late last year which stated that the farm was “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”.

In response to the WSPA’s damning report, the Cayman Turtle Farm initiated the independent investigation.

Mr. Glidden said the four investigators’ report contained both positive and negative findings.

The only negative findings Mr. Glidden touched on were the presence of severe lesions on the skin of several of the turtles and that some were found to be “moderately emaciated”.
“The report concluded that there was no significant issues of concern regarding public facing aspect of the Cayman Turtle Farm,” Mr. Glidden said, adding that the findings supported the ongoing conservation and research work of the farm.

The WSPA claimed it found evidence of salmonella and e-coli bacteria in the touch tanks, from which visitors can pick up and hold small turtles.

The minister said the report found the harvesting of turtles at the farm to be “humane”.

“The inspection team reinforced the conservation value of the Cayman Turtle Farm providing a legal source of turtle meat,” he said.

He added that the investigators had found no congenital deformities among the turtles. The WSPA report included a photograph of a turtle without eyes, which the group said was evidence of congenital deformities among the turtles at the farm.

The inspectors made several recommendations to ensure the “long-term health of the turtles that are such an important part of the heritage of the Cayman Islands”, the minister said, adding that the Turtle Farm had already started to take action on some of the issues raised in the report.

For more on this story, see Friday’s Caymanian Compass.