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January 15, 2013

Farming Sea Turtles

A threat to a peaceful species

Humane Society International

  • Turtles climbing on top of one another, competing for food from tourists. Kevin Degenhard/RSPCA

  • Crowded tanks can invite the spread of disease. Kevin Degenhard/RSPCA

  • Wounds can result from overcrowding. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • Another wounded animal. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • The park's restaurant offers sea turtle entrees. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • Signs encourage tourists to pick up and touch the turtles. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • Handling baby turtles. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

A sea turtle farm opened in the Cayman Islands, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, in 1968 to breed green sea turtles for local consumption. Over the years, it has developed not only into a major tourist attraction but also a site with what appear to be some significant animal welfare issues.

A myriad of problems

Many of the sea turtles raised at the Cayman Turtle Farm live in small, concrete tanks where visitors are allowed to touch, hold and feed them. Animal welfare experts who have visited the park reported observing turtles in tanks of dirty water with injuries of the type that could result from overcrowding and competition for food. A recent undercover investigation by the World Society for the Protection of Animals documented these and other health and welfare problems, producing video footage and photographs which reveal thousands of sea turtles kept in shallow, too-full tanks.

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Sea turtles spend their lives migrating long distances, swimming and diving through the open ocean. At the Cayman Turtle Farm, they are deprived of deep water. Close contact with these wild animals by the public could be harmful to people's health as well as to the health and welfare of the turtles.

Despite these conditions, the park is a popular tourist destination, especially for cruise ship passengers. Although it is clearly stated on the park’s website and in its education center, visitors may be unaware that the park slaughters turtles for consumption. Turtle meat can even be found on the menu of the park’s restaurant and the shells from these turtles are also sold to locals. This helps to keep the taste and market for sea turtle meat and shell alive and thriving in the region.

To make matters worse, documentation from the government of Costa Rica claims that some eggs used to set up the breeding program at the Cayman Turtle Farm when it first opened were taken illegally from a Costa Rican nature reserve.

Prolonging the problem

In the past, the government of the United Kingdom working on behalf of its overseas territory tried to get permission for the farm to export sea turtles and their shells. It failed, mainly due to questions about the origin of the breeding stock as mentioned above.

Meanwhile, measurable progress is being made at saving and restoring wild populations of green turtles through conservation programs in the Caribbean and elsewhere. These programs work to protect wild sea turtles from threats on their nesting beaches, reduce pollution and interaction with the fishing industry, and, most importantly, ban international trade in sea turtle products. The Cayman Turtle Farm could join these efforts by improving animal welfare issues while continuing educational programs.

Take Action

Sign our petition to end the cruel practice of turtle farming. The Cayman Turtle Farm should not profit from the slaughter of sea turtles, especially if these animals languish in substandard conditions. Take action today.

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