Petition asks Turtle Farm to stop breeding turtles for meat

A new petition circulating online is urging the Cayman Turtle farm to stop breeding turtles for human consumption. 

The petition, titled “Tell Cayman Turtle Farm to Stop Breeding Turtles for Consumption!,” is hosted on an activist social networking site called Care2 and had more than 158,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. Signatures on the petition ostensibly come from all over the world – the U.S., U.K., Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil and many more countries – though there appear to be few, if any, signatures from individuals living in the Cayman Islands. 

The petition is a response to an Oxford University study released late last year that gave the Turtle Farm the worst possible grade for animal welfare, calling it “one of the cruelest wildlife attractions in the world.” 

The Turtle Farm is the largest land-based attraction in Cayman. Visitors can interact with and swim with turtles there. It is also said to be the only facility in the world that breeds endangered green sea turtles for human consumption. The animal processing side of the facility is not open to tourists. 

The petition asks individuals to encourage the Turtle Farm to “stop slaughtering and encouraging visitors to handle their turtles, and instead transition into a wildlife preserve that focuses on protecting and caring for their turtles. 

“Though sea turtles are solitary in the wild and naturally swim long distances in spacious, clean waters, Cayman Turtle Farm packs 9,500 of them in cramped, dirty tanks where they fight for space,” the petition states. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, the farm encourages visitors to handle the turtles, which causes considerable stress and mental anguish.” 

Some signers of the petition said sea turtles should not be exploited by humans – via handling by humans, or human consumption. 

“I’m a scuba diver and I have dived in Cayman,” petitioner Valerie Quant from Ontario wrote. “I will not be going back until this stops. We need to use sustainable sources for food. The ocean is not sustainable.” 

Turtle Farm Director Tim Adam said he thinks the petition’s claims are “rubbish” and that petitioners are misguided and misinformed. 

“If you really care about the conservation of sea turtles, then you will really come to understand why Cayman Turtle Farm plays such a vital role,” Mr. Adam said. 

He challenged the petitioner’s claim that visitors handling the turtles causes the animals “considerable stress and mental anguish.” 

“We have no proof of that,” Mr. Adam said. “We don’t believe it, we haven’t observed it.” 

Mr. Adam said the turtles have an artificial cave they can swim into if they want to get away from people, and turtles would not be swimming near visitors, as they often are, if they were stressed. 

The Turtle Farm director also said that people are “in deep denial” about what would happen to wild sea turtle populations if the farm were to stop breeding turtles for human consumption. 

“Producing sea turtle meat allows sea turtles in the wild to continue to live and thrive rather than people poaching them,” Mr. Adam said. 

He said if consumers were no longer able to buy farmed turtle meat, it would only be “a matter of months” before the wild sea turtle population around the Cayman Islands would be depleted, as people turned to wild meat. 

He pointed to a recent study by researchers from the University of Exeter which found that nearly half of turtle meat consumers would buy wild turtle if the Cayman Turtle Farm stopped producing the meat. 

Mr. Adam said that overseas activists signing such petitions are “basically coming from a purely emotional place instead of a rational foundation” and do not “respect Cayman’s history.” 

“Turtles are amazing creatures. They’re very charming creatures,” Mr. Adam said, “so it’s a natural reaction if you come up to someone and say ‘Should these animals be farmed?’ and you don’t know why and what’s behind it, of course you’re going to say we shouldn’t do it.” 

The petition has a target of acquiring 160,000 signatures, though it is unclear what will happen when that goal is reached. Petition organizer Chris Wolverton could not be reached for comment. 

Turtles in one of the Turtle Farm

Turtles in one of the Turtle Farm’s tanks. An online petition has been launched calling for the farm to cease its practice of raising turtles for consumption. – PHOTO: CHRIS COURT

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  1. Now-a-days even foreigners living here are enjoying the taste of the turtle meat. And on any weekend, make sure you are at your favorite restaurant between eleven O’clock to twelve, because by one 0’clock you are out of luck. Caymanians do not mind having to pay 10.00 for small and 12 or 14 dollars for large plate of turtle meat. We enjoy this beyond measure, with some good corn bread, a little white rice, a slice of breadfruit, piece a cassava, and a few slices of fried plantain.
    That is our national dish. In the beginning, discovery of these Cayman Islands, it was turtle found, and I am sure eaten by Christopher Columbus and his crew.
    It is our tradition, and a part of our heritage. What is the reason for people who are not even Caymanians trying to take away or National Dish"? Even if you do not eat it remember those who on weekends cant wait to enjoy it.

  2. I think that this is the same group that caused the turtle to be on the endangered species list back in the late 60’s early 70s . They said that wild turtle meat should not used for human consumption back then and is saying that about farm turtle meat today. I wonder how the activist feel about all other farms in the world ? Mr Wolverton should answer why he is not concerned about all other farms in the world.

  3. I’m a Caymanian & I can honestly say I wouldn’t touch that meat if you paid me.

    The suffering those poor animals have to endure cannot be justified (both for our consumption and for entertainment).
    Also, the turtle farm is overcrowded and unsanitary. How someone could eat meat from an animal that is forced to live in and ingest its own excrement, I will never know. Disgusting.

    I will definitely sign this petition.

  4. We are what we eat, right? What do wild turtles eat and what "farmed" turtles eat?

    If the farmed turtle meat lovers consider the facts below, they might realize that the meat they eat is not exactly the turtle meat created by nature, but rather an artificially created hybrid. It may look like turtle and taste like turtle but does not have the benefits and it may be detrimental. So if you love turtle meat, at least eat the real one, if available and legal.

    Wild turtles typically eat a lot of plants that grow in the water, small insects, snails, worms. They live in pristine marine environmet and relatively free of unnatural stresses of life.

    Now, turtles at the farm are fed an artificial diet composed entirely of fish food pellets. They live in a foul mix of water, debris and pathogenic microorganisms including bacteria and viruses. Constant handling by tourists elicits severe chronic stress on the animals. I don’t know if farmed turtles are given medicine or vaccinations of some sort.

    That is why tilapias is not on my menu – it is practically grown in sewage and eats pellets made largely of genetically modified corn and soy.

  5. I guess if there was a petition demanding that sale of beef and chickens should be banned there would be plenty of people who would sign it.

    And for better reason if one knows anything about the appalling condition of factory farms.

    Think the turtle farm is crowded? Try factory farmed chickens. Each chicken being given the space equivalent of a letter sized piece of paper.

    Personally I have only occasionally eaten turtle meat as I find it a little chewy.

    But is the Turtle Farm crueler than other farms? No.

  6. I have never eaten Turtle meat and I am quite sure I never will, this is mostly likely because I’ve had pet Turtles since I was in grade school, one of which lived for 30 Years so I find it hard looking at them as food. On the other hand I’ve also had plenty of fish as pets yet I eat fish almost everyday. Chickens and Cows would be hard for me to look at as pets because I’m used to them being food.

    A dog in one country would be dinner in another, same goes for a cat or pigeon. The point here is that the world is a melting pot of different cultures and we as humans need to give the same respect to other cultures as you expect them to give yours.

    I don’t believe for a minute that the Turtle farm is hurting the population of wild turtles, I truly think it’s helping the wild ones as they say. And yes if you couldn’t get the meat from the turtle farm people would start eating wild ones. same thing would happen if you couldn’t buy chicken at the grocery store any longer, see how fast all those wild chickens running around Cayman would disappear.

    For the Turtle Farm as a business itself, I think that combining the Farming part with the Tourism part probably wasn’t the best idea if you want people to think of it as a conservation effort. You can’t say you’re in the business of saving the turtles when you’re butchering them in the back room.

    They should have been two completely different businesses both privately ran. Another example of why government shouldn’t be in the business of running businesses, they need to focus on running the country.

  7. @ L.Bell, your comment would the description of just about any bulk farmed animal, like Chicken, Cows or pigs. Don’t even get started on how veal is made.

    I am sure Norman’s link shows chickens in terrible conditions, however I’ll choose not to watch it since I’m having Baked Chicken for dinner.

  8. @ L. Bell

    With the recorded disease levels you would expect that the turtles in the farm are having to be given a cocktail of antibiotics and other meds in their feed.

    In reality CTF pretty just mirrors all the problems you get with poor quality fish farming.

    Maybe the Compass could check on this?

  9. Ok, consider this, opening the turtle crawls and letting out all the turtles in the sea to be free as some people want, no more breeding for meat.
    What do you think will happen the same day and all days to follow? You will see a Mariel of Caymanians in boats, skiffs, bath-pan dingy an on bamboo-raft too, out alongside the reefs of Cayman; Caymanians calling in sick from work and out on there just hunting turtles day and night. It would be like olden days, cook um fresh, corn, salt and dried. Then the turtle population would become extinct.
    We must stop breeding turtles for meat? nah……I don’t think so.

  10. It is a personal choice what to eat. Real food, real garbage or garbage dressed like food.
    Someone had told me that during post-soviet time things got so bad in Cuba that a sock marinated in ketchup would be sold as marinated "something" and a hungry one would not even notice the difference.

  11. Ok so the turtle farm should stop breading turtles for meat? Then anyone who wants turtle meat will go poach wild turtles. I dont see the logic behind the whole petition to stop breading for meat. Maybe petition for better facilities and treatment but if you stop the sale of meat its going to have adverse affects on the wild population that is only now starting to come back.

  12. No more steaks and burgers too, those poor cows. In some countries they are family members so all humans need to respect this. So I think we should not kill any animals for food this is wrong and bad to someone somewhere.

  13. My personal view is that eating an endangered species (which I believe turtles are) is not a good long term plan for the survival of that species. To say that eating turtle meat is ok because it is a "traditional food" is no justification, and seem to be a little narrow minded, and short sighted. Are we prepared to eat turtles into extinction because eating turtles is a "tradition". It used be a "tradition" to smoke on airplanes, drive drunk, not wear seat belts….but we were smart enough to give up these "traditions" because they were destructive If we do not learn for our past mistakes (eating turtles to the point of extinction), then we as humans are not very smart at all.

    I agree with the comments that say if the Turtle Farm shuts down then poaching wild turtles will increase and will speed up their extinction. Well couldn’t we pass laws with very strict penalties (2 years or more in jail) for anyone caught poaching turtles. Seems like a strong deterrent could solve the poaching problem.

  14. Thank God Cayman is a melting pot of people from around the world. All one has to do is ask people who live here on Island and they will tell you . No one has stopped eating Turtle. We humans have been blamed for turtles decline and probably back in Henry Morgans time that was true. But back in the eighties new laws came in and that changed. There are people in the world in the billions who do not eat shell meat because of their religion.
    When has anyone in the group from these so called Environmentalists gone to see the new Turtle Farm? First of all the area where people can touch Turtles is very hard to get a turtle to hold. Turtles in the tank are close to each other on the bottom where no one can reach them. They are schooling or acting as a pod. Go and see it for yourself and stop listening to people . The other Turtles in the farm cannot be touched.
    Security guards are on the Farm to watch people holding Turtles. You have to hold the Turtles next to the tank. You can’t walk away from the tank. As soon as you bend the rules a whistle is blown to remind you the rules. You have to wash your hands before and after you touch the Turtles in case you give them a disease . Cause I never had to do it or any other Tour guide. I personally have been doing it for 27 years 3-5 days a week.
    I do not believe Turtles to be in decline ,one only need to ask people from other Islands or areas like Australia or New Zealand , Philippines , Central America, South America, etc. Two decades ago, an unusual project to stabilize the population of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the coastal town of Ostional on Costa Rica’s Nicola Peninsula that led the Government to legally permit an exemption to the ban on harvesting sea turtle eggs.
    I really believe they have been making breakthroughs on the subject of the science of Turtles. Changing the diet of the Turtles have actually allowed them to increase their hatchlings.
    I think it is time to get more input from people around the Caribbean to see and hear our comments on the subject . Please Mr Editor place this subject in the paper for everyone to see and comment , Thank you.