HC 332

Written evidenced submitted by the World Society for the protection of Animals (WSPA)

Background

For centuries turtle meat was consumed in the Caribbean region as part of the local diet. However over time attitudes towards turtles and their meat have shifted in the region, due in part to the green turtles’ status as an endangered animal, and subsequent international legislation which seeks to protect it. However, instead of moving away from turtle meat consumption, a farm was founded in 1968, in the Cayman Islands which sought to meet the demand for turtle meat. This facility still remains today and is known as the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF).

Whilst some may view a farm of this sort as a solution to the conservation crisis by providing legitimate source of meat for those who wish to consume it, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) argues that the existence of this facility could actually artificially stimulate demand. WSPA would maintain that the same arguments that are applied to the sale of rhino and ivory, which is said to increase demand for these types of products (where previously this type of demand may not have existed), can also be applied to the sale of turtle meat. Whereas the demand for this meat has diminished within other populations, a legal source of turtle meat in Cayman means this demand has remained on this British Overseas Territory. Furthermore the sale of turtle meat to tourists via restaurants on the island could be artificially inflating the numbers of turtles slaughtered per year and as a result enable the Farm to claim that there is a demand for this meat.

Hypothetically it could also be possible that the existence of a facility which sells turtle meat at a cost which is higher than most other forms of meat on the island stimulates a demand for this sort of meat, and in turn an increase in poaching activities, amongst populations which are unable to afford these high prices. The CTF was also recently broken into with a quantity of turtle meat stolen; there is obviously a police investigation currently underway but it would seem evident that the vast quantities of an expensive meat were too irresistible for thieves. [1]

The fragile biodiversity of the Cayman Islands is also affected by the presence of the CTF, and WSPA has exposed shocking instances of mistreatment of the turtles in their care, as well as a lack of understanding surrounding the welfare needs of these animals.

WSPA has proposed to both to the CTF and the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) that a gradual transition away from turtle meat production is needed – into a rehabilitation and release facility for turtles. This has been done before; a sea turtle farm in the Réunion Islands known as Ferme Corail , made the transition away from a farm and in 2006 reopened as ‘ Kélonia : The Observatory of Marine Turtles’. This facility now operates as a rehabilitation and release facility, and a descaling education exercise was conducted which reduced demand for turtle meat so that now no turtles are slaughtered for human consumption. Sadly the CTF and the CIG still remain unwilling to discuss the option of a gradual transition with WSPA.

Biodiversity

The existence of the CTF threatens the unique biodiversity of Cayman in a number of ways. Firstly the CTF facility does not comply with the legal requirements to carry permits for water discharge. The waste water from over 9,500 turtles is pumped out from the facility directly into the sea. This includes waste water, normal water, food and even particulate matter such as soil and dust.

Whilst the Cayman Water Board has required the CTF to reduce the amount of effluent it discharges, and to obtain the necessary permits – in 2012 – they had not yet done so.

It is believed that this waste water has an impact on the delicate biodiversity of the marine environment on the side of the island where the CTF is located. A report in 2008 from then-Complaints Commissioner John Epp revealed "It is argued that effluent ... may have interfered with the attractiveness to the water tourism industry of Cayman’s well-known surrounding reefs and contributed to the reduction in the production of beach sand,".  [1]

The report also cited anecdotal observations by the Cayman Islands' Department of Environment of a stunting of coral growth in the immediate area surrounding the facility, although it said no recent environmental study had been done to quantify the effects of the effluent discharge. [1]  WSPA has also seen photographic evidence which suggests that the coral reef around the Farm outflow pipes has died, and WSPA does not believe the CTF currently mitigates the effect that this pollution has on the delicate marine environment.

Year of release

Number of turtles released

2012

150 – this was after (and thought to be in response to) WSPA’s launch of the ‘Stop Sea Turtle Farming’ campaign

2011

61

2010

22

2009

30

2008

0

2007

20

There is also concern surrounding disease and genetic pollution from turtles released into the wild. Since the Farm’s inception they have released over 31,000 turtles (although can only account for the whereabouts of approximately 13 of these animals now), although in recent years this number has drastically declined, as can be seen in the table below;

When the Farm was first established the method of breeding turtles in captivity for release, or ‘headstarting’ was considered appropriate and necessary to help increase turtle numbers in the wild. This method involves maintaining individuals in captivity until they have reached a size which it is believed will make them less subject to predation. However, thinking has moved on, and experts maintain that this is no longer the method of choice. Instead better protection for nesting turtles, their eggs, and properly resourced anti-poaching initiatives are believed to have better results.

 

It is also argued that headstarting can cause aberrant behaviour and movement patterns which compromise the complex migratory movements of sea turtles in their sub-adult years. In addition, there are serious concerns regarding the potential introduction of disease and parasites from these captive bred animals into wild populations.

 

It remains unclear as to whether a thorough and robust quarantine procedure has been in place for those turtles selected for release which would screen for disease and genetic abnormalities. In a recent ‘Independent Assessment’ conducted by researchers appointed by the CTF it was concluded that ‘although no evidence of deleterious effects have been documented in wild turtles, we recommend that, in future, all animals released into the wild receive a veterinary certificate of health’ [1] . This clearly suggests that up until this point such checks and certificates were not in place.

 

It is known that many different types of disease are present at CTF, and are spread from turtle to turtle. These include; grey patch disease, chlamdiosis, fibropapillomatosis and lung-eye-trachea disease. If inadequate screening of diseased turtles meant that individuals with these conditions were exposed to the wild population, disease could have been spread. However, as the CTF does not appear to monitor the turtles it releases it is unclear what effect may have resulted from this sort of release.

 

The impacts of genetic pollution, which refers to releasing turtles from unknown and/or different genetic stocks into wild populations, are also a major concern. WSPA has found evidence of turtles in the care of the CTF which had genetic deformities, including missing eyes and deformed skeletons. Via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request WSPA has also learned that the number of turtles which are breeding and producing viable eggs is very limited, which could suggest that in-breeding of some sort is occurring at the CTF. The figures below show the number of breeding turtles over the last ten years. It is worth bearing in mind that CTF is currently home to over 9,500 which would have been produced over time, solely as a result of the turtles detailed below.

 

Year

 

Wild caught turtles producing eggs

 

Captive bred turtles producing offspring

 

2002

 

0

 

0

 

2003

 

4

 

1

 

2004

 

5

 

2

 

2005

 

6

 

5

 

2006

 

9

 

9

 

2007

 

4

 

8

 

2008

 

3

 

9

 

2009

 

7

 

27

 

2010

 

9

 

10

 

2011

 

8

 

25

 

2012

 

12

 

31

 

The CTF is also home to the world’s most endangered turtle, the Kemp’s Ridley. The facility collaborated with the Mexican Government and the US National Marine Fisheries Laboratory, and in 1968 they were given 177 of these turtles. Today the CTF have 27 Kemp’s Ridley turtles remaining in their care, and they have never released any of these turtles into the wild. Ineffective record- keeping by the CTF means that they cannot be sure of the numbers which were shipped abroad; however, it is likely to have been in the region of 10 individuals. Although it is believed that these turtles were donated to the CTF in order to establish a breeding programme for them, breeding ceased in the mid-nineties, however, before this time the Farm managed to breed 3049 hatchlings,

It is extremely concerning to think that a breeding programme which produced 3049 hatchlings, from approximately 167 turtles (minus the 10 shipped abroad), has ended up with just 27 turtles surviving in their care.

Worldwide it is estimated that there is a total female nesting population of just 1,000 Kemp’s Ridley turtles [1] , and so whilst it is unlikely that all of these turtles in the care of the CTF were female, it is possible to compare the number in the wild versus the numbers donated to the CTF and the number which remain to infer the extremely detrimental cost of allowing these animals to remain at this facility.

This collaboration project between governments and the CTF could have resulted in a significant increase in the total number of Kemp’s Ridley turtle in the world today, which would have aided biodiversity in the Caribbean and South American region. Yet actually this project has had seemingly no positive impact on biodiversity whatsoever.

Consumption of turtle meat

Whilst the CTF may claim that they need to meet the local demand for turtle meat which otherwise would be satisfied by individuals poaching turtles from the wild, the actual demand for turtle meat among the local Caymanian population appears to be unknown. Via a FOI request WSPA has ascertained data on the number of turtles slaughtered for meat over the last five years. The number of turtles sold for consumption in 2011 (762) is less than half that sold in 2007 (1632). Via the media, WSPA has also learnt that the figure for turtles sold for meat in 2012 was over 900 [1] . These figures strongly suggest that there has been a significant decline in the number of turtles consumed over the last 6 years, which could suggest that local demand for this meat is also declining. Even this slight increase from 2011 to 2012 of around 140 does not show that demand is anywhere near the levels seen in 2007.

It appears that the UK Government is unwilling to tackle what is perceived to be a cultural issue – this is despite their willingness to tackle other culturally sensitive concerns such as rhino horn, ivory, shark- finning and whaling. The Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP upholds a ban on shark finning in British waters; this prevents sharks dying a painful death at sea after the removal of their fins. The demand for shark fins is fuelled by the desire by some to eat shark fin soup, whilst others maintain that the fins have medicinal purposes. Whilst Ministers feel able to comment on the cultural issues surrounding shark finning , the same cannot be said for the consumption of turtle meat. In a recent communication to WSPA, dated 14 th March 2013, Richard Benyon MP said "The Cayman Turtle Farm is… the responsibility of the Cayman Islands Government (CIG). The fundamental issue of whether the Farm should continue to farm turtles for their meat is one for the CIG to consider."

Whilst there is no doubt that the consumption of turtle meat is a cultural issue, there is concern that the slaughter figures do not provide a clear picture as to what quantity is actually consumed by local people, as opposed to tourists who eat it as a 'cultural dish' or something exotic to try when on holiday. In 2012 WSPA commissioned an independent poll of 400 people who went to the CTF as part of a cruise ship tour to the island. Out of these 400 people, 21% claimed to have consumed turtle meat whilst on holiday. This clearly demonstrates that this meat is being eaten by a group of people for whom it should not be intended.

Turtle meat is clearly on sale in restaurants around the island which are primarily aimed at tourists. For example the Paradise Bar and Grill [1] is situated next to the area of the port where cruise ship passengers alight onto the island, and they sell dishes made from green turtle meat sourced from the CTF. Selling turtle meat to tourists is effectively a subsidisation mechanism for the CTF. This entirely artificially created market for turtle meat helps perpetuate the Farm’s existence and even keeps afloat what appears to be a diminishing demand for the meat amongst Caymanians.

The artificial stimulation of demand for turtle meat can also be compared to the artificial demand for goods made from other endangered animals including rhino horn and elephant ivory. The UK Government have stated previously that they would call for ‘future sales of legally sourced ivory - designed to undermine the illegal ivory market - to be stopped unless it can be clearly shown that such sales reduce poaching levels.’ [1] WSPA understands that despite the Farm’s existence poaching still continues in the Cayman Islands, and this could perhaps be because people are encouraged to eat turtle meat, but are unable to afford the prices charged by CTF.

The fact is that the CTF perpetuates a demand for turtle meat in the Cayman Islands, when in fact the pragmatic solution would be to find ways in which that demand as a whole could be diminished over time. In the same way that any legal trade in ivory creates a demand that supply cannot fulfil , the only ultimate solution is to find ways in which that demand ceases altogether.

WSPA would like to see the CTF and CIG commit to undertaking research into the true local demand for turtle meat and commit to meet only this – whilst introducing initiates to reduce the demand for meat over time. An initial first step which can easily be made is for the CTF to cease selling the meat to restaurants, especially those which cater primarily for the tourist market – and instead only supply to local people who truly do demand access to the meat source. This would allow for the true demand for meat to be established fairly quickly.

Economics

Every known attempt to farm sea turtles commercially has failed on economic grounds. The CTF is no exception: its meat production is not profitable, and the tourist facing facility has never been able to compensate for this. Historically, there might have been one or two years when a profit can claim to have been made, but ultimately the CTF has declared itself bankrupt on two separate occasions, long before the large tourist development, known as Boatswain’s Beach was created. This required the CIG to step in and run the facility as a Government owned company. A historical timeline of the CTF and its economic issues can be seen below;

CTF Timeline:

1968 – Mariculture Ltd. was established

1975 – Mariculture Ltd. went bankrupt and was put into receivership.

1975 – Mariculture Ltd (receivership) was purchased by German investors who renamed it the Cayman Turtle Farm. Conditions were placed on this sale which meant that the Cayman Islands Government held a 2.5% stake in the company.

1979 – CITES changed the interpretation of its exemption of "bred in captivity" animals. This excluded the first generation of turtles born in captivity and occurred just as the Farm announced that its captive breeding program had successfully produced its first generation of turtles.

1982 – The new Cayman Turtle Farm owners gave up trying to farm turtles and brought numbers to a minimum with the intention of closing the facility.

1983 – The Cayman Islands Government purchased the Farm for US$1.5 million; the previous owners had invested over ten times this amount.

By the end of the current fiscal year the CTF is set to have received a total of just over $30 million in ‘equity injections’ since mid-2010. The CTF auditors, KPMG have noted that the massive amount of Government funding required to sustain operations is of "growing concern" [1] . Whilst the CTF might claim that their total cost of sales-to-revenue ratio has improved in 2012 and progress is being made because the borrowings, once totalling around US$54 million, have been reduced to CI$24 million in the 2011/12 fiscal year [2]  - it is difficult to see how the CTF can ever turn a profit or even break even when they are farming an animal which is so completely unsuitable for this purpose.

Under the FOI Act the CTF have stated that they have received the following amounts in funding from the CIG, as well as the following amounts in debt servicing, over the last five years;

Year

 

Total funding in CI$

 

Debt servicing in CI$

 

2006 - 7

 

5,824,104

 

3,578,464

 

2007 - 8

 

8,451,967

 

5,966,465

 

2008 - 9

 

10,554,818

 

5,867,789

 

2009 - 10

 

9,555,610

 

6,021,498

 

2010 - 11

 

9,852,569

 

6,102,434

 

The CIG have also just submitted their budget (which was discussed and agreed with the UK Government this month) which states that for the period between July and October of this year they will be spending CI$2,500,000 on the Cayman Turtle Farm.

That’s more than:

Emergency Fire Services - CI$1,797,019

 

Public Education Programmes - CI$84,828

 

Cayman Airways Limited - CI$1,700,000

 

Children and Youth Services (CAYS) Foundation - CI$726,000

 

Care of the Indigent, Elderly and Disabled Persons - CI$440,173

 

Ambulance Services - CI$743,375

 

School Health Services - CI$637,925

 

Environmental Services and Research - CI$877,394

 

In order to understand why the CTF is unable to make a profit, it is important to look past the debt incurred and instead look at the underlying reasons that have caused the CTF to go bankrupt twice, and remain financially supported by the CIG. Sea turtles simply are not biologically appropriate for commercial farming. These are wild animals, unsuitable for domestication for farming purposes. They take years to reach a size where they are suitable for slaughter, prefer to live in solitary conditions in the wild unless mating, require a food source which is not available to farmed animals meaning that a synthetic replacement, not produced in the Cayman Islands has to be sourced. Furthermore keeping mortality rates down is both technically challenging and extremely expensive.

It is not only WSPA which upholds this position, CITES officials state that sea turtle farms "are very expensive, require advanced technical knowledge, and are, to date, of unproved economic viability." [1]

It has been suggested that the CTF managers may be holding out hope that international CITES legislation will eventually be altered to allow for international trade in green sea turtles. They may believe that this would open up international markets and provide a new source of revenue as turtles could be traded between countries. But the reality is if this change were ever to occur it would take decades before a decision was made. In the meantime the CTF would need to remain operational and would continue to function at unsustainable levels of debt.

It is not only the cost of producing turtle meat which is of concern when considering the CTF’s business model. This model is currently based on the assumption that the CTF will ‘break even’ if it can double the number of tourists per year. The Current CTF Manager, Tim Adam has said "...when the Turtle Farm was expanded in the early part of last decade, the business model called for the construction of a cruise dock at the public beach" [1] . To just "break even" at the CTF Tim Adam estimates the facility would have to draw twice the number of visitors it draws now per year – 460,000 people – or about one quarter of the Cayman’ Island's yearly total visitors, counting both cruise ship and stay-over tourists. [2]

The only way for this to happen is via the introduction of a potential and controversial new dock for cruise liners - something which is far from certain, and so should not be relied upon in terms of business projections. This would also have serious consequences for biodiversity in the region as it would require the destruction of coral reefs to double the number of polluting cruise vessels which could dock on the island.

The Cayman Islands needs a new facility which takes the actuality of the current situation into account and builds a business model around realistic projected growth of tourism. A new rehabilitation and research facility would not be reliant upon a dock of this sort, or on the doubling of visitor numbers, and so would be starting at a much more realistic number when it came to economic stability.

Animal Welfare

WSPA conducted an investigation into the animal welfare failings of the CTF over a year ago. Details of what the investigators found are detailed in WSPA’s publication entitled ‘The Cayman Turtle Farm; A case for change’.

However, since this report was publicised and its findings presented to the CTF and CIG very little has changed for the 9,500 turtles in the care of the CTF. In fact in some cases the situation has worsened. In July of last year, staff negligence resulted in the death of 299 turtles at the CTF. [1] Under the FOI Act WSPA has received images which show the number of turtles which died, as well as the conditions they endured before their death. It is worth remembering that in 2011 the CTF released into the wild 150 turtles, yet managed to accidentally kill 300.

The death of these animals is shocking, as it is likely these animals suffered before they died. Further documentation obtained via the FOI Act showed that the CTF believed these animals died from heat exhaustion as a result of a lack of water.

As a result of the WSPA campaign the CTF commission an ‘Independent Investigation’ of their own facilities, the results of which were published in January 2013. [1] Despite WSPA having reservations about the impartiality of this report, the investigators did find that "a notable proportion of animals had quite severe skin lesions that included deep ulceration to the shoulder, forelimbs, head and hind limbs." The investigators also noted that "although there are processes in place to address existing lesions and on-going mortality, they need to be intensified, enhanced and their efficacy assessed". The panel also noted that, "based on visual examination of body profile, a notable proportion of animals appeared moderately emaciated."

 

In response to this report, the current CTF Manager Tim Adam said "recent experimental pre-clinical trials conducted by Dr. Carlos E. Crocker (St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine) and Dr Walter Mustin of CTF have enabled the Cayman Turtle Farm to develop effective medication protocols for the treatment of skin lesions and, as a result, the Farm has subsequently expanded and intensified these treatments to include the aggressive treatment of all affected turtles in its care". [1] However, what is sadly missing from this explanation is an understanding of what causes the lesions on turtles in the first place, and that is that sea turtles are not suitable for farming. CTF should not be keeping 299 solitary animals in a shallow cramped tank, as it is clear that lesions could, and currently do, result from this.

A solution for change

WSPA proposes that a transition away from meat production and towards a rehabilitation and release facility is necessary. This would allow for the current levels of debt to be properly managed because the main focus of the facility would no longer be the costly production of turtles for meat. By gradually downscaling meat production at the CTF an end would be in sight to the annual bailout required in order to ensure that turtle meat can be consumed by perhaps only a small proportion of Caymanians. WSPA suggests that this transition process should be phased over several years, during which time the current staff employed at the CTF could be re-trained, to ensure that jobs for current staff remain.

A transition of this sort could also significantly benefit the territories natural biodiversity, waste water would no longer be pumped into the sea in such large amounts, and turtle releases would cease which could prevent the spread of diseases from farmed turtles to wild populations.

A properly conducted transition, which could be funded by sources including DEFRA’s Darwin Plus Initiative, would result in a positive change for the Caymanian taxpayer, the UK Government and the 9500 turtles in the care of the CTF.

2 July 2013


[1] Cayman News Service, 2013, http://www.caymannewsservice.com/crime/2013/06/24/thieves-steal-turtle-meat

[1] CayCompass , June 2012 http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/2012/06/20/Turtle-Farm--monitors--discharge/

[1] CayCompass , June 2012 http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/2012/06/20/Turtle-Farm--monitors--discharge/

[1] Cayman Turtle Farm, January 2013, http://www.turtle.ky/mediareleaseinspectionfindings

[1] National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.co.uk/animals/reptiles/kemps-ridley-sea-turtle

[1] CayCompass February 2013 www.caymannewsservice.com/science-and-nature/2013/02/12/900-turtles-killed-meat-2012-ctf-reveals

[1] http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g147366-d1046148-r156549307-Paradise_Bar_Grill-George_Town_Grand_Cayman_Cayman_Islands.html

[1] DEFRA, 2011, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benyon-calls-for-firm-action-against-archaic-trade-in-rhino-horn

[1] CayCompass , April 2013 http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/2013/04/02/Report---Turtle-Farm--gets-$30M-over-three-years/

[2] CayCompass , April 2013 http://www.compasscayman.com/story.aspx?id=120091

[1] CITES, http://www.cites.org/eng/prog/hbt/bg/ranch_breed.shtml

[1] CayCompass , April 2013 http://compasscayman.com/caycompass/2013/04/09/Farm-finances-not-getting-better/

[2] CayCompass , April 2013 http://compasscayman.com/caycompass/2013/04/09/Farm-finances-not-getting-better/

[1] Wildlife Ex tra, 2012, http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/cayman-turtle-farm.html#cr

[1] Cayman Turtle Farm, 2013, http://www.turtle.ky/mediareleaseinspectionfindings

[1] Cayman Turtle Farm, 2013, http://www.turtle.ky/mediareleaseinspectionfindings

Prepared 11th July 2013