The government will use a U.K. grant in part to study whether eating turtle meat is as popular as it has been in the past.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie confirmed that Cayman recently obtained Darwin Plus grant money to investigate, among other issues, “the socio-economics…of the local supply and demand for turtle meat.”
The review of turtle meat consumption will be part of a larger review and ongoing work on conservation of wild sea turtles in Cayman, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said.
The news was music to the ears of World Society for the Protection of Animals members, who have been haranguing the Cayman Turtle Farm on a number of health and conservation-related issues since 2012.
“WSPA is delighted to hear that the Department of Environment has secured U.K. funding to investigate the true level of demand for turtle meat and the impact of releasing farmed turtles in the Cayman Islands,” said WSPA Head of Wildlife Policy and Research, Neil D’Cruze. “We welcome the news that there will be no more turtle releases from the farm until the conclusions of this study are made available.”
Mr. D’Cruze and other WSPA officials were in Cayman last week for meetings with the Department of Environment and various government ministries as they continued their campaign to try and change the focus of the Cayman Turtle Farm from a meat-production/tourism facility to a conservation and research operation.
The Cayman Turtle Farm is believed to be the last place on Earth where sea turtles are raised and bred for human consumption.
Government officials said Tuesday in a statement that meetings with the WSPA, which released a scathing report on the Turtle Farm operations in 2012, were productive and that they would “undertake to address all appropriate concerns.”
“It was agreed that turtle meat has huge cultural significance in the Cayman Islands,” the government statement read. “WSPA is concerned that there is a need to consider ways to reduce the promotion of turtle meat to international tourists.”
Mr. D’Cruze said the WSPA believes that Cayman should know exactly how much demand exists for turtle meat, as recent sales of the product have been tepid, and many local restaurants – including one on the Turtle Farm property – have stopped offering turtle on the menu. The issue of whether government would “reduce the promotion of turtle meat to international tourists” was not discussed further in the government’s statement.
In addition to the issue of turtle consumption, the Department of Environment said it would look at the effectiveness of the Turtle Farm’s annual turtle release program and whether it contributes to the replenishment of the turtle population around the Cayman Islands. The WSPA stated in its earlier report its view that farm-bred turtles could introduce diseases into the local wild turtle population, although Turtle Farm officials have said they have no evidence of that occurring.
The U.K. grant will provide £149,904 (CI$203,768) for the project, which has a total budget of £394,959 (CI$536,819) over the course of two years. The matching funds to make up the rest of the total come from the Department of Environment and its partners at the University of Exeter.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said it was not possible at this point to determine how much would be spent specifically on the turtle meat consumption study.