Demand for turtle meat constant since 1990s

Turtle poaching problems remain despite farm

The demand for turtle meat has remained relatively constant since 1996, with about a third of Cayman’s households consuming turtle in the past year, according to a new study on the cultural and economic value of farmed turtle in the Cayman Islands. 

Researchers found that poaching wild turtle remains a problem, but most turtle consumers prefer to eat legal turtle meat from the farm. Complaints from animal welfare activists about the Cayman Turtle Farm and public debate over poaching and the role of the farm in the country led to a grant from the U.K. government for a pair of studies on the role of the farm and the wild turtle population. 

The report notes, “Despite the presence of a legal source of turtle meat, illegal take is high relative to the size of the Cayman Islands wild turtle nesting population, with at least 195 households estimated to have bought illegal turtle meat during the last year.” 

Demand for turtle meat from the farm is based primarily on price, according to the report, and consumption ebbs and flows as the price goes up or down. “Demand is not being completely met,” said lead researcher Ana Nuno from the University of Exeter. She said the findings are not meant to recommend increasing production at the farm. 

The farm, which raises endangered green sea turtles for meat, alongside the tourist attraction, has come under fire repeatedly from animal welfare activists and the public. 

The first of the two studies, this report looks at the social and economic value of the farm. Researchers from the University of Exeter surveyed residents, tourists and restaurants between September 2014 and July of this year and analyzed data from the Cayman Turtle Farm. The second study, due next year, will examine the wild turtle population and impacts from the farm. 

“It’s not likely that demand is going to die out in the near future,” she said. However, she noted that demand could drop over generations as people lose the taste for turtle meat. One of the main qualities of turtle consumers, Ms. Nuno said, is people who have a Caymanian grandparent. 

“It’s interesting to see that turtle consumption is something they’re so proud of,” the researcher said. “In developed countries, people forget these connections to wildlife.” 

Fewer than a fifth of turtle consumers said they prefer wild-caught turtle meat to farmed turtle, with most citing taste as the main reason to eat poached turtle. 

When asked what they would do if the Cayman Turtle Farm stopped producing turtle, almost half of turtle consumers said they would buy wild turtle. Ms. Nuno said she thought that number may be too high, calling it a protest opinion. “People might over-report if they don’t like something,” she said, such as threatening to eat wild turtle if the farm was forced to stop producing meat. 

Cayman Turtle Farm managing director Tim Adam said the report supports the farm’s mission. He said the farm’s biggest impact is on conservation. 

Price ranked high as a factor in buying turtle meat and whether to buy it legally from the farm or illegal turtle taken from the wild. Prices at the farm spiked several years ago, but have since come down to $9 a pound for stew meat, compared to $5 a pound that researchers documented for wild caught turtle. 

“People still think it’s $12 to $16 a pound,” Mr. Adam said. “It’s $9. The price is very affordable.” 

Since there is no historical data to compare this study to, Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said, “We probably will as a country need to do this from time to time” to monitor the demand for turtle meat and its social impact. The changes will be generational, she said, not year to year. 

Ms. Nuno said she got involved in the Darwin Initiative-funded study because “there were a lot of questions, a lot of discussion.” She said, “This is really crucial baseline data.” 

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said this report and the second one coming next year will be used to help develop a new conservation plan for green sea turtles. 

As for the Cayman Turtle Farm, Mr. Adam said, “We will take this and translate it to make an action plan around it.” 

The Department of Environment will host a public presentation on the report at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Town Hall in George Town. 

Demand for turtle meat constant since 1990s


  1. I think that the research and the survey is valuable information to the farm and DOE, but I think that the real issues here is the management of the farm. Why people prefer to eat illegal turtle meat, there are so many reasons, the biggest one is the the turtles are dying and you”re not hearing the true cause because of the politic that is invoked in the management. If this farm was in the US and the the live stock dying, and the true cause was not made public, it would be shut down until. The DOE has very important parts to play in the survival of the farm, and the wild population, if the two of those body”s don”t work together, there would be no tourist attraction, or no wild turtles, and no turtle meat period.