Turtles Can't Be Released

Cayman News Service

2013-1107-ky-CNS-TurtleGEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman (CNS) -- The Cayman Islands Turtle Farm has admitted that it should not be releasing its farmed turtles into the wild without putting the animals through a more vigorous quarantine and health screening process.

As a result, despite having more than 8,000 turtles at the facility, the annual release, which the Farm highlights as part of its conservation credentials, will not go ahead this year during the Pirates Week festival. Following the independent inspection of the farm last December after an animal rights charity exposed serious shortcomings at the facility, the management had committed to developing a more rigorous quarantine and health check procedure prior to releasing turtles into the wild.

"The farm has upgraded quarantine facilities and enhanced the procedure under the direction of Cayman Turtle Farm’s Chief Research Officer, Dr Walter Mustin, and in-house veterinarian, Dr Martha Keller," the CTF said in a press statement Tuesday explaining why the turtle release would not happen.  "These enhancements have highlighted a need for some additional health screening tests to be run on the turtles prior to release. Unfortunately, those desired tests are not presently available."

As had been highlighted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals in their report about the conditions at the farm, including disease, skin problems, birth defects and many other issues with the farmed turtle populations, releasing the farmed turtles into the ocean may have repercussions on the wild population.

Things are also going to get more complicated for the farm because it is now reaching out to universities and research centres overseas to develop and implement the appropriate tests, it said, but it will also need to get special CITES permits for all biological samples from sea turtles sent off-island because the trade in endangered species is illegal and the turtles which are farmed for meat at the facility are all endangered species.

Despite this significant setback, the farm continued to justify its conservation work, stating that research at the facility "helps biologists and conservationists worldwide better understand and conserve green sea turtles”.

CTF Chief Researcher Dr Walter Mustin said, “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.”

The farm once again claimed that over 150 scientific papers have been produced as a result of the  research, which have provided "invaluable information to scientists and researchers" that are involved with engaged wild sea turtle populations.

Tim Adam, the managing director of the farm, said, “We realise 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 Pirate’s Week, but we are determined to ensure our health screening protocols are updated and implemented.”

Aside from being billed as part of its conservation programme and a justification for continuing with  the farming of the endangered marine creatures for meat, the annual release also offered the farm a chance to raise much needed cash for the facility. The farm sucks in an annual government subsidy of around $10 million from the public purse.

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© Cayman News Service

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