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Cayman Turtle Centre addresses latest misrepresentations from WSPA

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Cayman Turtle Centre addresses latest misrepresentations from WSPA
16May 2014

In its latest release on their report The Cayman Turtle Centre: A Continued Case for Change, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) continues to misrepresent the facts to suit its agenda – which is to cease the rearing of turtles for meat at the Cayman Turtle Centre (CTF).
CTF stated “What the WSPA is doing with this latest released report is merely a regurgitation of their previously stated claims, plus ongoing misrepresentation of facts to suit their aim to stop turtle farming by any means, ignoring long-standing local cultural traditions and displaying a reckless disregard for the truth."

One of the most egregious fabrications by the WSPA is that the Cayman Turtle Centre is stimulating a demand for turtle meat by “selling turtle meat to tourists.” That is a blatant mistruth. Cayman Turtle Centre does not sell turtle meat to tourists. If local restaurants choose to serve turtle, which is a traditional cultural dish in the Cayman Islands, and tourists choose to patronise those restaurants – that is merely their choice in a free society. However Cayman Turtle Centre does not advertise to tourists regarding turtle meat consumption nor offer turtle items on its on-site restaurant menu.

The WSPA release claims that CTF “aimed to maintain production levels of turtle meat … anticipating a level of demand that has not been qualified,” inferring that CTF may be producing turtle meat without being certain of the volume of demand for it. That is nonsense. CTF has over 500 individual residents that purchase turtle meat directly from the Centre, plus over 30 local restaurants, and many of those are “repeat customers.” The Centre processes turtle meat in response to immediate market demand, which does fluctuate with particular cultural holidays and other celebratory events in the year when local traditions stimulate high peaks in demand. The demand is real and immediate: almost all of the meat is sold fresh the very same day it is harvested.

In regard to conservation benefit, again the WSPA has muddled the facts and misinformed MPs and its supporters in regard to CTF’s release programs and the impact CTF on the wild sea turtle population. Of the turtles that breed around Cayman each year, it is impossible to know how many of the breeding males originated at the Centre because the males never come ashore. The females only come ashore to nest at night, so many of the nesting females are never seen by the beach patrols; most nests are found the following morning after the female has gone back into the sea so it is possible there are significantly more females with CTF living tags that are nesting here but have gone undetected.

Furthermore, the titanium tagging study confirmed that turtles released from CTF migrated far and wide - to as far north as Florida and as far south as South America, so a large number of the released turtles may not actually return to Cayman but they have helped increase the population of Green sea turtles across the Caribbean and Atlantic.
What the WSPA chose not to mention in their release is the huge upswing in the number of sea turtle nests in Cayman in recent years. There were approximately 20 Green sea turtle nests here in 2000, whereas in 2012 there were approximately 180: a nine-fold increase in the twelve year span. CTF has contributed to this in two ways. Increasing numbers of turtles released from CTF decades ago, are now finally reaching the age to breed and reproduce in the wild, and some of those are returning to Cayman to nest. Equally if not more importantly, the Cayman Turtle Centre provides a conservation benefit in providing farmed turtle meat to the local population, as it supresses the motivation to poach turtles from the wild, and this effect has been affirmed by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. That benefits the wild population of all species of turtles around Cayman, as seen by the gains in the number of nests and the increase in sightings of sea turtles around Cayman by snorkelers and divers in recent years. If the Cayman Turtle Centre did not provide farmed turtle meat for local consumption, it begs the question: “Where would those hundreds of customers get their turtle meat from?”

WSPA also consistently points to the company’s financial losses and Government subsidy and implies the $10.29 million subsidy is because of the “Centre” i.e. the result of turtle farming and meat production. This is a huge misinterpretation. CTF is at once Cayman’s #1 land-based tourism attraction with over 200,000 visitors annually, a research and education facility hosting over 2,000 students annually, and a working commercial Centre. The sale of turtle meat represents just 10% of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s total revenues, only approximately 10% of the company’s staff are employed in the farming and meat production operation, and the cost of operating the commercial farming division is a fraction of the total entity’s operating expenses. By far the largest component of Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter is a “theme park” that is the island’s most-visited land-based tourist attraction, so the great majority of the debt servicing, infrastructure and operating costs that the subsidy covers, are related to sustaining that attraction. An Economic Impact Study conducted by a leading international accounting firm has revealed CTF contributes much more positive macroeconomic impact than the amount of the operating loss subsidy, and sustains hundreds of jobs in the local economy. Therefore it is completely misleading to infer that turtle farming and meat production causes a $10.29 million subsidy.

With regard to the WSPA’s claim that the outflow water from turtle farming causes “intensive growth that has smothered the shoreline, ocean bed and coral reef”, recently conducted underwater studies as well as observation by divers in the area strongly refute that claim. One very popular shore dive site in the Northwest Point area is less than a quarter of a mile from Cayman Turtle Centre, and another very popular shore dive site is less than a half mile in the other direction. Both of those are renowned for their beauty and diversity of marine life. Additionally, the Cayman Turtle Centre continues to operate
under a proper Water Discharge Permit issued by the Cayman Islands Water Authority, testing and monitoring effluent and environmental conditions as specified by the permit.
CTF summarised “The WSPA is clearly interested only in telling a lopsided story to suit their agenda. WSPA representatives have given little credit to the strides that CTF has made in recent years in measures taken to ensure animal welfare, and they have chosen to ignore or refute the real conservation benefits of CTF. Apparently they would prefer CTF to eradicate thousands of farmed turtles rather than release them into the wild or provide farmed turtle meat to satisfy the existing local demand.

“The WSPA has not yet achieved its aim of stopping turtle farming in the Cayman Islands, so they are continuing their lobbying efforts and misleading sensationalism in order to strong-arm the UK Government, the Cayman Islands Government, the Cayman Turtle Centre, and the Caymanian people to get their way.”