The Turtle Farm: A $30,000-a-day national meal

The Cayman Turtle Farm’s annual report has arrived. It contains bad news, and good news … sort of.

The bad news is that the Turtle Farm continues to lose money – costing the country’s taxpayers nearly $30,000 per day to stay open during the 2013/14 budget year.

The “good” news is that the number of turtle farm tenants increased by about 1,000 over a period of four years, from fewer than 7,000 turtles in mid-2010 to more than 8,000 in mid-2014.

Now, we qualify our assessment of the growing captive turtle population because the “goodness” of the data points is, in our opinion, a matter of perspective. To most people in the Cayman Islands, the information can be equated to an increase in inventory – that is, there are roughly 1,000 more turtles that are destined someday to be served up as Cayman’s National Dish.

To others, including, we venture to say, most of the rest of the world, the revelation that there are 8,000 turtles at the Turtle Farm, rather than 7,000, means that there are about 1,000 more turtles in captivity, with predictable and unpalatable (if you’re a turtle) futures.

While the Compass Editorial Board remains a staunch defender of Caymanians’ hereditary and cultural right to dine on turtle meat, we also remain highly critical of the government’s expending some $10.5 million per year to maintain the Turtle Farm in its current “Boatswain’s Beach” incarnation.

Additionally, we’d like to remind our readers that the Turtle Farm – though it tends to attract the most attention – is far from being the only phenomenon in Cayman where our treatment of animals is out-of-sync with what is generally considered acceptable in the First World … which, after all, is where we derive the vast majority of our visitors.

First, consider Grand Cayman’s unknown number of free-roaming dogs, both strays and the owned but unpenned, that gather in menacing packs, root through rubbish containers, and ferociously attack chickens, iguanas (green and blue) – even the governor herself. They killed her beloved cat.

We can’t, however, blame dogs for being dogs; but we most certainly can blame humans for being negligent, for not spaying, neutering or even keeping track of our pets, and for being content with an inadequate, piecemeal approach to animal control, with “rescued” animals sent off to the overcrowded, underfunded flood-prone shelter, or dispatched to the killing grounds at the Department of Agriculture. (And don’t forget our thriving population of feral cats that are up to similar mischief as our dogs, though they are as a species generally more demure about their activities.)

Out in the sea, some fishermen apparently didn’t get the memo that the new National Conservation Law makes it illegal to catch sharks in Caymanian waters. Last week, a concerned member of the public shared a photograph with the Department of Environment of a young nurse shark that had been captured and put into a cooler at West Bay Dock. The department’s Chief Enforcement Officer Mark Orr said officials are focusing on “educating people” as to the new law, before they begin enforcing it with fines, confiscations or jail time – a strategy we predict will result in disappointment.

Although we in Cayman may have become accustomed to our turtle meat, stray dogs, untamed cats and shark dinners – not to mention our conch chowder, black coral jewelry, iguana road-kill, wandering chickens, caged parrots, captive dolphins and semi-domesticated stingrays – we must remember that the attitudes of many of our tourists, and newer residents, may not reflect our own.

How we in Cayman treat our animals is a visible reflection of the value we place on life in general, including that of other human beings.

In the words of Immanuel Kant: “If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.”

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  1. I know that it’s pretty well explained in the editorial, but I think that when we don’t have our turtle, conch, fish, lobster, and our 4-legged friend which I know is man’s best friend if cared and loved for, it would be our fault for not caring for, and destroying, and not protecting, and not enforcing the protection laws.

  2. Chief Enforcement Officer Mark Orr stated that officials are focusing on educating the public on a common sense approach to animals, in terms of neglect, abuse and care of said animals on Cayman, and not enforce punitive fines. What century are you going to wake up and realize that this disgusting behavior towards animals here, has been going on for too long. So, because Cayman consumes turtle meat, the turtles are treated kindly. How many more dogs must be killed to make people understand that the dogs are real living beings who deserve respect, love and their basic needs met.

  3. I would like to know how the sales break down? Who are the real beneficiaries/consumers?

    I can”t help but wonder if the grass roots Caymanian is not the one who actually gets the benefits from the turtle farm?

    It used to be a civil service perk and of course there are several restaurants who serve it to tourists (and it is clearly of no cultural or historical relevance to them). But comparing production to the number of Caymanians and the costs involved – it seems like everybody is subsidizing it for the benefit of a minority.

  4. @ Mr Gray, I don”t know how much you know about the turtle meat and who eats it. I know that every hotel and restaurant on the island purchased large amounts of turtle steaks, so who was eating this turtle steaks, not the local people because they could not afford to eat at these restaurants,they ate turtle steak and stew meat. I sold it at the market.