More than 8,000 turtles at farm
Although a far cry from the 20,000 turtles the tourism and research facility once boasted, the total number of turtles housed at the Cayman Turtle Farm has increased significantly over a four-year period.
In mid-2010, the turtle farm’s managing director, Tim Adam, reported to the Legislative Assembly that fewer than 7,000 turtles were kept at the farm.
An annual report released this week for the government’s 2013/14 budget year indicated that the farm maintained more than 8,000 turtles at its West Bay compound.
“Over the past couple of years, there have been very encouraging results in this area,” the 2013/14 annual report stated.
During the 2014 turtle nesting season (which runs roughly from March through November) more than 26,000 turtle eggs were collected from breeding turtles. This was a slightly lower number of eggs produced than the year before, largely because the farm took its less successful breeders out of the pond.
Officials also did not count baby turtles born before March 1, although some turtle eggs had been laid on the farm’s artificial beach in February of that year.
Encouraging hatch rate
The report also noted what farm officials described as “very encouraging” results in the turtle egg-hatching rate.
“Of the eggs that were incubated to full term, the percentage of eggs that hatched increased from 10.8 percent in 2013 to 15.6 percent in 2014,” the annual report noted.
Turtle Farm managers were hopeful the breeding improvements would help keep up with local demand for turtle meat, which increased some 45 percent between 2013 and 2014.
During the government’s 2013/14 budget year, more than 51,500 pounds of turtle meat and related products were sold, compared to more than 35,000 pounds in 2012/13.
The boost in turtle meat sales was one of several factors, including increased admission revenues to the Turtle Farm park, that boosted farm revenues by nearly 12 percent during the 2013/14 budget year.
The increased turtle meat production and visitor arrivals, however, did not come close to addressing the Turtle Farm’s annual operating shortfall for the 2013/14 year.
Government auditors reported that an additional $10.5 million was given to the facility just to keep it open and solvent.
Of that $10.5 million subsidy, nearly $6 million went to pay off the Turtle Farm’s debts from a 2004/05 park expansion, a debt which will not be fully retired until 2019, according to Mr. Adam.
Meanwhile, another $3.5 million was needed to cover the park’s operating shortfall.
The same operating shortfall in the 2012/13 year, when the turtle farm received $10.7 million from the government, was $3.6 million.
In the annual report, Turtle Farm managers opine, as they have in the past, that visitor numbers to the park will likely not increase significantly unless a new cruise ship pier is built in George Town, bringing in a much larger number of cruise tourists.
Government auditors noted “significant” operations losses have plagued the farm since the 2005/06 budget year, and that without continued funding from the public purse, the Turtle Farm would fail financially.