New health screening for juvenile and baby green sea turtles is the reason there won’t be a turtle release as part of the annual Pirates Week festivities, according to the management of the Cayman Turtle Farm.
Farm officials said Tuesday that they had developed a “more rigorous quarantine and health check procedure” prior to releasing turtles into the wild.
The procedure was developed following an independent inspection of the Turtle Farm’s operations in December 2012.
The desired testing for released turtles is not presently available at the farm site, officials said. Turtle Farm scientists are seeking assistance from overseas universities and research centers to develop and implement appropriate tests.
“Research at the Cayman Turtle Farm helps biologists and conservationists worldwide better understand and conserve green sea turtles,” said the farm’s chief researcher Walter Mustin. “It is the only place in the world where scientists have repeated access to known populations of Green Sea Turtles ranging in size from 20 gm hatchlings to 250 kg breeders. This has made possible controlled studies in the nutrition, health, and general biology of sea turtles.”
More than 150 scientific papers have been produced as a result of such research at the Turtle Farm, allowing researchers to greatly expand the body of knowledge about a wide variety of aspects of sea turtle biology, life cycles, care and husbandry.
“We realize that many people look forward to our turtle release event and will be disappointed that it’s not going to happen during this year’s Pirates Week,” said farm Managing Director Tim Adam. “But we are determined to ensure our health screening protocols are updated and implemented.”
The Turtle Farm has come in for criticism 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.
Although they are trying to implement more stringent health screening policies, turtle farm officials insisted the postponed release for Pirates Week 2013 had nothing to do with the state of the turtle population.
In fact, 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.