There will be no release of baby and juvenile Green Sea Turtles during the annual Pirates Week festival on Grand Cayman this month.
Officials with the Cayman Turtle Farm have canceled the release, according to a spokesman for the government-owned company.
The previous two years during Pirates Week events have seen much larger-than-normal turtle releases by the Turtle Farm, as population numbers at the farm increased.
One hundred and fifty turtles were released into the wild as part of the Cayman Islands 2012 Pirates Week festivities.
That number is far more than the Cayman Turtle Farm has released in recent years during the annual event, largely because of what the farm said was a record number of hatchlings seen at the facility in 2012.
Past years have seen a limited number of juvenile turtles, usually between 10 and 15, set into the wild.
The 2011 Pirates Week festivities saw a much higher number of turtles released – about 50. However, many of those were smaller hatchling turtles and not juveniles ages 18 months and 2 years.
The farm has canceled turtle releases previously because of insufficient numbers.
Over the past few years under Managing Director Tim Adam, the tourist attraction/turtle meat production facility/sea turtle conservation center has continued to lose money and required millions of dollars in subsidies from the public purse to keep operating. However, the entity has also made steady progress toward paying off its remaining debt from the reconstruction and build out of the facility between 2001-2005. Mr. Adam has said he expects that debt to be paid off by 2019.
In addition, the facility recently announced a decline in turtle meat prices due to higher production of turtles at the farm during recent breeding seasons. The new prices, set by the farm and which came into effect beginning Sept. 1, are $19 per pound for turtle steak, down from $20.25, and $9 per pound for turtle stew meat, down from $12.
“It’s been a steady improvement,” Turtle Farm Board Chairman Brian Wight said. “Timmy’s experience in corporate management has really helped out.”
The Turtle Farm has come under heavy fire since the release of a report by the U.K.-based World Society for the Protection of Animals last year that accused the operation of mistreating turtles under its care and potentially introducing disease into the surrounding marine environment when releasing newborn and juvenile green sea turtles into the wild.
Turtle Farm management has accepted some aspects of the WSPA report, but rejected others and has refused outright to shut down its commercial turtle meat production operations.
Over the past four government budgets, including the just-ended 2012/13 fiscal year, the Cayman Islands government has spent an average of $9.8 million each year in “equity investments” to support the continued operation of the Turtle Farm.
In the current government budget, the subsidy to the Turtle Farm is more than $10 million. The payments, according to Turtle Farm Chief Financial Officer Phillip Fourie, are mostly to pay off debt accumulated by the farm during a redevelopment and expansion effort that was undertaken between 2001 and 2004, as well as other loans that were taken since that time.