Turtle Farm: Time to end the shell game

The Cayman Turtle Farm — government’s hybrid livestock/tourist facility on Northwest Point Road — presents a complex issue that raises disparate questions concerning Caymanian culture, public spending, employment, environmental conservation and animal cruelty. The answer, however, is simple: Shut it down.

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.

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  1. I think you”re right close the farm . Give Tim a job somewhere in Gov”t . Then allow only Caymanians to catch and slaughter turtles in all the districts . We could make it a tourist attraction . Most people south of the Mason Dixon line are not that sensitive . That is people in that area are use to hunters shooting deer ( Bambi) and have then hanging in the back of the truck. So sounds like a better idea. Caymanians have said that the wild turtle taste better. I agree , just shut it down we don”t need it. Beside as long as they change the law. What could possibly go wrong? We need something new and exciting

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  2. We”ve been coming down to our home on Grand Cayman for over 30 years. We”ve seen the Turtle Farm changes during that time and wonder why it hasn”t been closed by now. It continues to lose money, year after year, and frankly feel it”s a place not worth visiting once you”ve seen it. Government should realize it”s costing the fine people of Grand Cayman money that could be better spent somewhere else.

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  3. I’ve been to the Turtle Farm maybe once or twice.. and I honestly found the facility a boring place. Much like the rest of Cayman sadly.

    That farm should’ve been closed down a long time ago.

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  4. I am not sure if closing the turtle farm will stop the losses.
    I may be wrong but I thought that a major part of the losses were caused by interest payments on the loan.

    If this loan is guaranteed by government then it will still need to be paid.

    I again suggest that people should be allowed to release turtles for a reasonable cost. This would have the side benefit of reducing over crowding.

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  5. I don’t think that the farm should be closed down. I think that the farm needs to be under good farm management and all the politic taken out. The farm could be a benefit to the Islands. I wonder who the people were that the survey with? Was it all non caymanians that live on the Island? Or was it 50% caymanians and 50% non caymanians?

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  6. The turtle farm should not be closed . It is a part of our culture but people need to stand up and say no . Not only because is it better then beef it is a tourist attraction. Tim is doing a great job. We are all under stress trying to survive in Cayman as Caymanians. While outside forces are trying to change our history and culture stand up Cayman .

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  7. Close down the Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman. Mpve the Turtle Farm to Cayman Brac, South Side, and along with the new Turtle farm, create a Conch Farm and a Lobster Farm. Many jobs would be created for Sister Islands’ population. Turtle and conch meat and lobster can be sold at a premium all year round in Cayman, and exported to the US (and Cuba?), and selling farmed turtle and conch meat and lobster tails will take the pressure off illegal Caymanian poachers with spear-guns, who would invade recovery zones on all three islands. Farmong of these three seafood species would also be a new tourist attraction for the Brac and LC. The new farm could be called Gladys Howard’s Sea-Food Farms, honouring Gladys Howard’s memory.

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