Turtle farm bosses have been urged to do proper research to discover the real local demand for turtle meat instead of “manipulating” the market by increasing production and dropping prices.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals, which released a damning report on the farm last year, believes its concerns are being ignored.
Neil D’Cruze, wildlife advisor for the society, said increased production at the farm, cited by management as the motivation for a drop in prices, would only make the animal welfare situation worse.
“Today, there are even more sea turtles in exactly the same amount of space. Therefore, the overcrowding and the animal welfare problems associated with it are even more of an issue,” he said.
“There are simply too many green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm, and they need to start reducing numbers rather than adding to them if any meaningful animal welfare improvements are to be made.”
He also questioned the claim that a price reduction in farmed turtle meat would have any effect on poaching.
“There is no solid evidence that farmed green sea turtle meat can act as a direct substitute for wild sea turtle meat. The claims that cheaper turtle meat deters illegal poaching are mere speculation. To be specific, no matter how significant the price drop, farmed meat will always be more expensive than wild sea turtle meat.
“If the Cayman Turtle Farm truly has an interest in preserving wild populations, it would be much more effective to focus its efforts on enforcement related activities such as night time beach patrols.”
The turtle farm, which gets $10 million in annual subsidies from the Cayman Islands government, said improved techniques had led to a bumper crop in 2012, set to be bettered in 2013, enabling it to reduce prices.
Tim Adam, managing director of the turtle farm, said demand for turtle meat was still strong.
Mr. D’Cruze questioned this, saying more research was required.
“Currently, no one knows the true scale of local Caymanian demand for green sea turtle meat. Given the current cash and carry method of sale at the Cayman Turtle Farm, there is absolutely no way to distinguish between sales to local Caymanians and sales to tourists who eat turtle meat in restaurants. Manipulating the price of turtle meat in an attempt to stimulate consumer demand is not the answer.
“Instead, World Society for Protection of Animals would like to see the farm work with the Department [of Environment] to establish the true level of local Caymanian demand via a national survey and initiate a receipt system that will end sales to visiting international tourists. This would ensure that the Cayman Turtle Farm can actually meet their remit of supplying turtle meat to local people, who still have a desire to eat it,” he said.
Mr. D’Cruze added that his organization was in discussions with government and was hopeful that some of its concerns would be addressed.
The animal protection society would like to see the sale of turtle meat phased out and the farm transition into a rehabilitation and release center.
“In the short to medium term, there are several key steps which the Cayman Turtle Farm and the government can take which would ultimately help to reduce the current number of green sea turtles at the facility,” Mr. D’Cruze said. “These include ending the costly and potentially damaging wild release program and implementing more preventative methods of turtle protection; ending the handling of sea turtles by the public; obtaining a true understanding of the scale of local Caymanian demand for sea turtle meat and ending the sale of turtle meat to international tourists.
“We have raised these steps with the newly elected Caymanian government and hope to see progress made in the areas over the coming months.”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals highlights the Kelonia turtle refuge on the island of Reunion off the southeast coast of Africa as the model for what could happen in the Cayman Islands. The organization claims visitor numbers and revenues increased when the facility was converted from a farm to a rehabilitation center.