A visit to the Cayman Turtle Farm, a commercial tourist attraction on Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Islands, gives you the opportunity to abuse a captive wild animal, eat turtle meat (a banned product in the rest of the world), actively prevent the conservation of an endangered species, and maybe even get E. Coli or salmonella.
The Cayman Turtle Farm states that it has a dual purpose – first and foremost to farm the endangered green sea turtle for sale as meat, and secondarily to repopulate the species. Sadly it is incapable of doing either: sales of the meat have fallen by more than half since 2007 as the Caymanian population consigns this practice to the past, and the farm’s treatment of these magnificent turtles is a direct contradiction of their conservation mandate.
Despite professing to be a conservation facility, the CTF houses more than 7,000 of these endangered turtles and for the past five years has released only a shameful average of 27 per year. Of all the tagged turtles that have been released by the farm in the past 30 years, only 11 have returned to nest on Caymanian beaches. Furthermore, the deteriorating condition of the turtles actually deters conservation, as they cannot be released into the wild carrying the diseases and genetic abnormalities caused by intensive breeding. And their claims that the sale of turtle meat deters poaching from the wild is dubious at best. The price of turtle meat from the farm is the highest by far of any form of meat on the island, and a poached turtle is still free. The turtles are frequently wounded or ill due to the severe overcrowding (turtles are a solitary species) yet go without even routine veterinary care, which explains why 2,299 turtles have died at the farm in the short window of 2007-2011 alone.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals in Washington, DC, has spent the past year investigating this farm and has accumulated a significant amount of evidence on the facility. Unfortunately, not only are these endangered species being kept in filthy conditions which lead to disease, genetic mutation, and captivity stress including cannibalism, but the water in which tourists regularly swim, stand, and reach into to handle the turtles has tested positive for E.Coli, salmonella, and vibrio vulnificus. The farm proudly markets their “touch tanks” as an opportunity for tourists to enjoy getting close to the turtles but the handling is a significant stressor for the turtles and passes diseases between the animals and the tourists. The Purell and hand-washing stations (new, since this information became public) are not sufficient to kill the bacteria found in the water.
WSPA has taken their evidence and concerns directly to the farm but sadly to no avail; the CTF refuses to consider any meaningful changes. This despite the fact that 87% of tourists polled said they would not participate in an activity if knew that animals were being abused. Until the Cayman Turtle Farm transitions their operation to a legitimate conservation and education center, which could still be enjoyed by tourists without farming the animals for slaughter, it’s inadvisable to visit the this shoddy facility. Instead, try snorkeling or diving so that you can see these magnificent animals in the wild, as they are meant to be.