Cayman will be stepping up local efforts to save the critically endangered hawksbill turtle through a proposed turtle conservation facility on Cayman Brac.
Cayman Turtle Centre CEO Tim Adam urged support for the facility in Finance Committee last week.
He told legislators the population of the hawksbill turtle has declined on the island and the nests are decreasing.
Government has allocated $2 million for the facility in the 2020/2021 budget.
However, after heavy questioning from Opposition members Arden McLean and Ezzard Miller, it was revealed that the funds were not for the facility itself, but for the preparatory business case for the centre.
Miller took issue with the financing of the Cayman Turtle Centre in Grand Cayman, which continues to be heavily subsidised by more than $8 million per budget cycle and questioned whether the proposed facility would also prove to be a drain on the public purse.
Adam said the facility will be funded by sponsorship and donations.
Both Adam and Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell defended the, Cayman Turtle Centre saying that it serves as an anchor tourist attraction in West Bay and provides employment.
Kirkconnell said the new facility will not only assist in the conservation of the turtles, but it will also help the Cayman Brac economy by providing jobs and attracting tourists.
Adam stressed that the proposed facility would serve the dual purpose of conservation and education, and include a lab for research. It will not produce meat for consumption, he said, as it will specifically rear hawksbill turtles for release, noting the species is in need of help.
He said it will also aim to grow the Cayman Brac population of green sea turtles, which is in decline there as well.
Last year, Adam said, there were no hawksbill nests found in Grand Cayman.
“We were blessed to have a few in Cayman Brac and … less than 20 nests on Little Cayman,” he said as he asked for the legislators’ help to save the turtles.
The global population of the hawksbill turtle, which nests in the Cayman Islands, is declining with some estimates placing the numbers at around 8,000 in the wild.
“All of the turtles at the Cayman Brac facility are ultimately destined for release, therefore augmenting the population in the wild,” Adam said.
While McLean acknowledged the need to save the turtles, he put the blame for the dire situation with population numbers squarely on the lack of enforcement.
“[It is] because of poaching, that is the problem with it. It has been an abject failure on how we have managed the natural resources in this country and that one in particular. Poaching has caused it, so let’s not try to diminish and try to make the public feel this is a natural occurrence; it is not, it comes from poaching by people,” McLean argued.
He added he has raised the issue for years on lack of enforcement for poaching. Kirkconnell said that was an issue for the Department of Environment and McLean should voice his concern when the DoE appears before the committee.
Miller questioned if there was any board directive to turn a profit at the Cayman Turtle Centre. Adam responded that a plan is being worked on to ensure the facility breaks even.