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.