The latest report on the Turtle Farm, produced by researchers in collaboration with various groups and environmental officials from Cayman and the U.K., provides interesting details on local attitudes and behaviors surrounding the consumption of turtle meat in Cayman.
Unsurprisingly, the more “local” a person is, the more likely he or she is to have eaten turtle in the past year — for example, 30 percent of residents, 53 percent of registered voters, and 62 percent of people with a Caymanian grandparent. Also unsurprisingly, researchers found that a relative handful of people persist in purchasing “wild” (i.e. “illegally poached”) turtle meat despite the Turtle Farm’s output, and a lot more people say they would purchase more “wild” turtle if the Turtle Farm were shuttered.
Turtle is, of course, Cayman’s “national dish.” It harkens back to our country’s past, and for many residents, turtle forms an integral part of family gatherings on special occasions. In other words, Caymanians don’t just like turtle meat … They love it.
Don’t misunderstand us: We believe that eating turtle is a Caymanian right, bequeathed by heritage, and we have little patience for condemnatory preaching by self-styled conservationists and outside interest groups.
That being said, if sufficient demand for turtle meat exists, that demand should be met by the private sector, not the public sector. As far as poaching is concerned, it is government’s responsibility to enforce its laws — or change them.
Our reasons for shuttering the Turtle Farm are not primarily environmental — though we do cringe at the thought of the thousands of tourists who congregate at the facility to witness the turtles’ crowded conditions of captivity — but economic.
The government should not be running businesses in general, and particularly not an entity that requires a subsidy of more than $10 million per year, and whose primary product is a local comfort food, with a healthy side order of international outrage.
We should take a moment to share a good word about a good man, Tim Adam, who serves as managing director of the facility. No one can fault Mr. Adam for the ongoing woes of the facility. After a distinguished career heading up Cable and Wireless, Mr. Adam took on what has turned out to be an impossible assignment at the Turtle Farm. No one — not even Mr. Adam — can fix this financial mess.
Closing the facility would not only save millions of dollars per year, but also free up Mr. Adam for a more meaningful assignment in government, if he were willing to continue to serve.
As some have suggested, splitting the tourism and farm operations might have merit, but those ideas are best pursued by the private sector, not the taxpaying public.
Given the reputational damage the Turtle Farm is engendering and Cayman’s scarcity of public resources for even the most essential services, the Turtle Farm is an indulgence that the country simply can no longer afford.