Sea turtles are magnificent solitary animals that only come together to mate. They will swim an average of 1,600 miles between feeding grounds and nesting beaches, and can dive more than 300 feet.
So just imagine the cruelty of trapping one in a small filthy tank. Now imagine hundreds, thousands. Packed together, sea turtles get sick and stressed. They turn on each other. Tourists that pay to ‘meet’ these sensitive animals might not recognise the bite wounds, or know that handling them is mental torment. We think sea turtles deserve better.
Following a year-long investigation, WSPA discovered disturbing evidence ranging from animal suffering and health risks, to conservation issues and financial failures.
The Cayman Turtle Farm is the only large-scale turtle farm in existence: the two other formal attempts at commercial production have failed. Claiming to “showcase Caymanian wildlife” to visitors, the farm fails to mention that some of these same turtles are then slaughtered for their meat.
Thousands of sea turtles live in crowded conditions, often on top of each other in small tanks with diseased-filled water. Some of the turtles have disfigured fins, missing eyes, or open wounds due to infection, mishandling, and even cannibalism.
Despite releasing over 31,000 turtles since its inception, the farm has only been able to scientifically demonstrate that 13 turtles nesting on Cayman beaches are there as a direct result of their efforts.
WSPA's investigation found traces of E.Coli and Salmonella in the turtle touch tanks – posing a great health risk to tourists visiting the farm. There’s even further risk of farm visitors bringing these illnesses back on board cruise ships to a larger group of tourists.
Independent research has shown that a large majority of Caribbean tourists are against attractions that mistreat animals and, in fact, would be willing to pay more to visit an attraction that helps improve conditions for animals.
The Cayman Turtle Farm is debt-ridden-meaning it brings no economic value to the island. It costs the Caymanian taxpayer on average CI$9 million per year to remain operational.
The primary function of the farm is to help generate income via tourism yet the farm is losing vast sums of money year-on-year. To date, the Government has funded all modernization and debt. WSPA believes that this is the time that the Cayman government invests their money into conservation.
WSPA proposes that the farm is converted into a rescue, rehabilitation and release and eco-tourism center that 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 center that has demonstrated increased economic benefits for the island, and rising visitor numbers.
A transformed farm could also become a center of excellence for sea turtle conservation and has the potential to become the jewel in the Cayman Island’s crown.