Cayman Islands: Sea Turtles Held in Appalling Conditions

B. McPherson
Never handle turtles


The most popular tourist attraction on the Cayman Islands is harboring a dirty secret. The Cayman Turtle Farm has been exposed by the World Society for Protection of Animals for its horrific conditions. High levels of bacteria in the water, skin lesions, deformities and cases of cannibalism were found by investigators.

This government operated facility has thousands of endangered green sea turtles in holding ponds. Breeding of the reptiles is done for release into the wild but also to support a demand for turtle meat. Releasing diseased and deformed turtles into the ocean endangers the few that are still surviving wild in the sea.

Turtle ponds, not the breeding and meat ponds, are open to the public where interaction with the turtles is allowed. The WSPA noted that in many cases turtles are handled in a way that is distressing to them.

Initially the Cayman government discounted the allegations of inhuman treatment of their turtles. They took an aggressive stance on the subject saying that WSPA was trying to change the culture of the Cayman Islands by attempting to coerce the government to shut down commercial raising of green turtles.

After receiving a 140 000 name petition urging the Cayman government to cease subjecting these endangered animals to overcrowding, inbreeding and disease for profit, it has agreed to work with the Society to improve the standard of care. The society remains cautiously optimistic.

There is an ongoing problem with educating the public about captive wildlife. A hugely profitable industry captures dolphins for marine parks. Paying customers can also "swim with the dolphins" in some tanks. The dolphins aren't smiling. Their mothers were probably killed during the juveniles' capture.

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