At the end of July, WSPA held encouraging talks with members of the newly elected Caymanian Government, where our proposed solutions to problems at the controversial Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) were discussed and positively received.
Over 9,500 endangered sea turtles are still bred and housed at the CTF for their meat – they currently live in dirty tanks, are often diseased and unable to express their natural behaviours.
WSPA’s Chief Executive, Mike Baker, and Wildlife Trade Campaign Leader, Dr Neil D’Cruze, proposed to the Caymanian Government - the legal owner of the farm – that the CTF is redeveloped into a rehabilitation, rescue and release facility for injured turtles.
The meetings, which included, amongst others, the Ministers for the Environment, Tourism, Planning, Health and Agriculture, highlighted a shared concern within the new government about many aspects of the Farm. These included: the unproven conservation benefits of its breeding programme; its CI$9m a year drain on the island’s economy; the lack of knowledge about the true nature of local demand for turtle meat and the poor welfare conditions in which the turtles are kept.
D’Cruze said: “We are pleased to have had open, candid and more positive talks with the new Caymanian Government. I believe that there is real possibility that we can collaborate to ensure that positive steps are taken to help the thousands of sea turtles which continue to suffer at the Cayman Turtle Farm.”
While WSPA is cautiously optimistic to have found this significant common ground, however, there is still one key area of dispute. WSPA remains clear that the only way to fully resolve the welfare problems at the CTF is to transition away from commercial production, whereas the Caymanian Government believes there is a way to humanely farm sea turtles.
WSPA’s proposal to turn the CTF into a rescue, rehabilitation and release and eco-tourism centre is modelled on the Reunion Island’s former turtle farm, which successfully transformed into The Kélonia Observatory of Marine Turtles. Kélonia is now a world-respected research and education centre that has demonstrated increased economic benefits for the island, and rising visitor numbers.
A transformed CTF could also become a centre of excellence for sea turtle conservation and has the potential to become the jewel in the Cayman Island’s crown.