The Cayman Turtle Farm will get nearly $1 million less in funding this year but retains the full support and financial backing of the government.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell came to the defense of the farm in his budget speech as he announced $9.5 million in new funding for the tourist attraction.
The facility has faced criticism internationally for its treatment of the animals in its care and locally for being a drain on the public purse.
“Despite the negative attention in some international circles, the Turtle Farm still ranks as our number one land-based attraction,” said Mr. Kirkconell.
He said the farm attracted more than 200,000 visitors annually, as well as 2,000 students to its research and education facility.
Despite those numbers, the Turtle Farm is some way short of breaking even and will require $3.6 million from government to cover the shortfall between its revenues and its operating expenses.
A further $5.9 million from the government budget will go towards servicing debt and interest payments at the farm. The total $9.5 million allocation for the Turtle Farm is $790,000 less than was allocated in the last budget.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the attraction had increased revenue from food and beverage and gift shop sales making it possible to cut the grant slightly.
He said an economic impact study had shown that the facility contributed more to the economy than the amount of the operating subsidy and sustained hundreds of jobs.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals is campaigning to end turtle farming in the Cayman Islands and wants to see turtle meat removed from menus at island restaurants.
The organization has raised concerns about overcrowding and disease at the farm, as well as signs of cannibalism among captive turtles.
The farm has refuted the bulk of the allegations and insists it has made changes to improve animal welfare.
Mr. Kirkconnell said eating turtle was a Caymanian tradition and the farm played an important role in preserving the island’s heritage.
He added, “For 500 years, the consumption of turtle meat has been an integral and established part of the local diet, and having a legal source of production via the Turtle Farm greatly reduces poaching in the wild.
“From a ministerial perspective, our focus is to ensure that the Cayman Turtle Farm maintains a safe and humane animal environment that also provides its guests with a high quality, enjoyable and responsible tourism experience.”