Report on farmed turtle deaths kept from public

Report on farmed turtle deaths kept from public

The infection that hit the turtle farm last year, killing 1,268 green sea turtles over four months, did not come to light for almost a year and a half. 

The information was finally revealed in a Freedom of Information Law request and subsequent appeal for Cayman Turtle Farm board meeting minutes. The board presentation on the infection was initially redacted, but later handed over along with a host of other information after an appeal. 

The Cayman Compass requested the meeting minutes in November 2014 and received redacted minutes in late January and early February this year. The newspaper appealed the redactions to the Information Commissioner’s Office and received new versions with most of the redactions removed. 

Following the disclosure, Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam said, “A lot of things were redacted that should have been released.” 

Cory Martinson, acting deputy director for the Information Commissioner’s Office, said, “We went through each redaction.” In the June 2014 meeting, when the discussion on the turtle deaths occurred, more than four-and-a-half pages out of seven were redacted in the first FOI version. After the appeal, most of the information was not redacted. 

“A lot of information managers want to be cautious,” Mr. Martinson said. Some information managers responsible for fielding FOI requests “don’t get a lot of requests,” Mr. Martinson said, and may not be familiar with the law or remember all their training. He said he was not making excuses for information managers, but he does understand that they have to make these legal decisions with little outside advice or support. 

Sensitive commercial information is exempt from FOI, but the distinction between what has to be disclosed under FOI and what does not can be a difficult decision, Mr. Martinson said. 

Mr. Adam said the FOI law “paints everyone with one brush, ministries and government companies.” As a government-owned company in the competitive tourist business, Mr. Adam said, he was concerned how the law might reveal commercially sensitive information. He said there were similar concerns for other government-owned companies, including CINICO and Cayman Airways. 

There are exemptions in the FOI law to protect commercially valuable information, such as negotiations with suppliers. Exemptions in the law include trade secrets and “any other information of a commercial value” that could be devalued if it were made public. 

Mr. Martinson said protecting commercial information under the FOI law has to be weighed against public interest. 

“A lot of things were redacted that should have been released.”

Tim Adam, managing director, Turtle Farm 

More than four-and-a-half pages out of seven were redacted in the first FOI version of the Turtle Farm board meeting minutes.

More than four-and-a-half pages out of seven were redacted in the first FOI version of the Turtle Farm board meeting minutes. On the left is a redacted page dealing with a discussion on the turtle deaths. On the right is the version of the same page released after the FOI appeal.

Turtles in a tank at West Bay’s Cayman Turtle Farm.

Turtles in a tank at West Bay’s Cayman Turtle Farm.

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  1. The people of Cayman know that there are those who want to close down the Turtle farm, and would do anything to see just that.
    Speaking of report that the turtle deaths were not reported to the public until a year later……. duh, Have we ever yet been told by NASA that life was ever found on Mars? No. But area 51 is still a secret.
    How long after Chicken Flue, and Mad Cow disease was discovered before the world knew? The important thing is that what happened at the turtle farm was handled properly by Mr Adam and his crew. Support Cayman Turtle Farm it is a part of our heritage.

  2. Just in case this article may be somehow misinterpreted as blaming Cayman Turtle Farm’s FOI Manager or Deputy FOI Manager for the extent of the original redactions, I would like to clarify that given my official responsibilities in the role of Company Secretary which is in effect the official Secretary to the Board of Directors, the matter of what should be redacted, and to what extent, was referred to me for consideration before the redacted Board Minutes were sent to the requesting party. In that initial exercise responding to the FOI request, we made several redactions with the intent of applying various relevant sections of the FOI Law and with various overriding concerns as to what redactions were needed: to fulfill our duty of trust to our shareholder to preserve the value and ongoing successful operation in fulfillment of the Mission of our company; to preserve essential confidential relationships such as personal information on employees and related matters; to maintain the confidentiality of commercially sensitive information; and so on.

    We owe a debt of gratitude to the team from the Information Commissioner’s Office who took the time to come and meet with us at Cayman Turtle Farm, and painstakingly went through with us each of the redactions so that we could thoroughly discuss them, explain our rationale, and at the same time hear and learn from them as to how the various concerns should be handled: which redactions were appropriate, and which ones the ICO considered should not be redacted, and why. That team was led by Cory Martinson and I would like to take the opportunity to express my personal huge appreciation of his professionalism, his patient explanation, his spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation, and his dedication to the role of the information commission in the painstaking work of building a successful nation here.

    I would also like to take the opportunity to express my huge appreciation of CTF’s Information Manager and her Deputy who faithfully perform those important roles in addition to their several other responsibilities, and who have rightly earned respect in their diligence and the quality of their work in response to FOI requests.

    Also I must say I was very impressed by how well the Cayman Compass journalist Charles Duncan was able to translate a very complex and very technical topic accompanied by a lot of scientific data (and as you can imagine a few robust discussions between me and him!) into a very readable newspaper article. Those who know me well will know that I am very particular about proper wording and scrupulous accuracy in what is written and published in my name, so they will understand the significance of me saying that with perhaps the exception of one or two relatively minor details the article was an accurate and informative reflection of not only what I said, but also of what took place and what our team of experts did about it.

    Our team led by our Chief Research Officer Dr. Walter Mustin that worked on this problem (with priceless insight and advice from our Deputy Chairman Joe Parsons) deserve great praise for approaching it in a very methodical, professional and time-sensitive sequence of detection, investigation, research and solution searching, testing, trial and observation, decision-making and execution. Their dedicated and deliberate approach ultimately yielded great success in overcoming what could have become a devastating problem for our turtle herd. By their very disciplined and methodical approach they faced this sudden mysterious biological crisis head on, and they very responsibly ensured it was properly and very effectively remedied while preserving the safety and security of our turtle meat production chain that is so vital to our nation’s concerted efforts to conserve sea turtles in the wild.

  3. Mr Adam, I have to ask you a few questions after reading all your redacted excuses, and protection of the shareholders, you know that turtle meat is a big favorite meal of the people of Cayman Islands, at what point in the year and a half that the sale of turtle meat had been stopped? Why did it take for the Cayman Compass to request the information ? I think that this is shameful and disgraceful act of hiding something like this that’s in the food chain of humans consumers. I am very happy with the Cayman Compass for keeping issues like this in the open.