The original premise of the Turtle Farm, when it was established as a private venture in 1968, was simple: Raise green sea turtles for commercial purposes.
Unfortunately for the entrepreneurs, long-standing bans across the globe on importing sea turtle products left the Turtle Farm with a product it wasn’t allowed to sell.
The government stepped in and eventually bought out the whole operation. Part of the rationale for the government takeover was that providing a reliable supply of farmed turtle meat would satisfy the demands of Caymanians, thereby reducing the poaching of wild turtles.
It wasn’t until the last decade that the facility began to hemorrhage money, after the government decided to turn the Turtle Farm into a full-blown tourist amusement park called Boatswain’s Beach, spending some US$56 million on the expansion project. In an unfortunate marketing miscalculation, it turns out that turtles, as performers, were never quite the equals of, say, the acrobats at Cirque du Soleil — or even the dolphins across the street. As a commodity, they were mainly suited, well, for eating.
Currently, most of the annual $10 million subsidy to the Turtle Farm goes toward servicing debt, not covering operational losses (which is not to say the facility isn’t deeply in the red).
But the hard reality of dollars and cents isn’t a primary concern of self-appointed environmental crusaders such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals, whose goal is to prevent the consumption of turtle meat, even if it’s farmed — even though it’s the national dish of Cayman and has been enjoyed by residents of “Las Tortugas” for hundreds of years.
Now Cayman’s Department of Environment has accepted a U.K. grant to help fund a survey to see whether the consumption of turtle meat is as popular in Cayman as it was in the past.
We are hard-pressed to imagine a more frivolous use of pooled funds by a pair of broke countries than to study whether Caymanians still like turtle.
Let us assist: Most Caymanians not only like turtle; they love turtle, and for good reason: Turtle (and turtling) are part of Cayman’s heritage, its culture, its diet and even its holiday dinner celebrations. The modern-day Turtle Farm has distorted the price of turtle meat to help balance the books of its so-called “tourist attraction.”
We see no reason for such a survey to be conducted, unless the results are intended to become part of the outsiders’ campaign against the continued existence of the Turtle Farm. In that case, we see no reason why our Department of Environment is playing the role of willing accomplice to people who don’t like Cayman, don’t like the Turtle Farm and, most likely, don’t like turtle meat.
This editorial board’s stance is that the Turtle Farm, in its incarnation as a tourism attraction, is an unsustainable drain on public resources and should be shut down. But that’s because we can’t afford it, not because we’re against eating turtle meat.
On the contrary, if there is a market for turtle meat in Cayman (as we suspect there is), the government should pick up the phone, ring the top brass at Foster’s, Hurley’s and Kirk, and convene a meeting with the goal of selling the meat production component of the Turtle Farm to any one of them or a consortium of all three.
Let the market dictate prices, and Caymanians will have access to all the turtle meat they care to buy.