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Cayman Turtle Farm responds to Sea Turtle Conservancy criticisms of turtle release programme

19/10/2012 15:45:32

Sea Turtle Conservancy responds to Cayman Turtle Farm

 

On October 15, Sea Turtle Conservancy joined the campaign organized by the World Society for the Protection of Animals to urge the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) to cease its commercial operations and become an educational and conservation facility benefiting green turtles in the Caribbean. We are now responding to CTF's October 19 rebuttal of the humane, scientific and conservation issues raised by the campaign.

First, CTF maintains that it is a humane operation. If this were the case, how did 300 turtles perish this summer in one tank without water? Our organization has received expressions of concern about the facilities and treatment of turtles from our members and others who have toured the facility while on vacation, with complaints about dirty water and crowding being highest on the list of problems. Both crowding and dirty water constitute inhumane conditions.

Second, in all situations involving the release of captive animals into the wild, the spread of disease to wild populations is a concern. This includes the introduction of new and old diseases to avian, mammal, reptile and amphibian populations. The stress of captivity can conducive to disease no matter how good conditions are and certainly in the case of CTF, poor sanitary conditions are a known issue. Perhaps the CTF is doing a better job with this issue now than it has done in past decades as it admits, “There have been significant strides at the Cayman Turtle Farm since that time to eradicate diseases at the Farm that are present in the wild population.”

Third, for years STC staff have expressed concern about the conservation benefits of the Cayman Turtle Farm releasing sea turtles of mixed genetic stock into the Caribbean. At the time that these releases began, sea turtle scientists did not know that sea turtles from different nesting areas have distinct DNA that allows us to identify their nesting beaches of origin. Turtles hatched at CTF are of mixed lineage because the breeding turtles originated from six distinct areas in the Western Atlantic, specifically Suriname, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guyana, Ascension Island and Mexico. Once genetics were understood, many in the sea turtle conservation community appealed to CTF to stop the practice of releasing turtles of mixed lineage but to no avail. The concerns we have expressed about genetic problems are specifically related to the mixing of the gene pool.

Lastly, we recommend that footage and images of CTF operations recently obtained by WSPA be included in the scheduled evaluation in December by an independent reviewer. Now that CTF management is on notice, in all likelihood conditions are already improving. We anticipate that crowding will be reduced, failing turtles will be dispatched, and water will be cleaned more often than it was in the past. We also expect that the reviewer will have access to all CTF facilities, including the abatoir. In the best case scenario, a representative of WSPA or STC should be invited to participate in touring the facility with the reviewer.

To support our efforts to stop sea turtle farming at the Cayman Turtle Farm, please visit www.stopseaturtlefarm.organd sign the petition. You can also share the link on Facebook and Twitter at #stopseaturtlefarming to make your voice heard.

 

Cayman Turtle Farm responds to Sea Turtle Conservancy criticisms of turtle release programme

The following was sent to Wildlife Extra by the Cayman Turtle Farm, in answer to the criticism from the Sea Turtle Conservancy. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012...... The Cayman Turtle Farm is today responding to criticisms by the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) of the Cayman Islands-based research and conservation centre's decades old turtle release programme, which has released some 31,000 turtles into the wild and is now seeing solid returns as tagged adult females return to Cayman beaches to nest in increasing numbers.

 

The first criticism by the STC alleges the presence of diseases at the Cayman Turtle Farm and in our released turtles.

The allegation that our turtle releases endanger wild population by potentially spreading disease and genetic abnormalities is at best misleading and at worst untrue.

The STC seems to be relying on assertions made by the Word Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in its current campaign against the Cayman Turtle Farm. The studies and data that the WSPA is relying on to make these claims are several decades old. There have been significant strides at the Cayman Turtle Farm since that time to eradicate diseases at the farm that are present in the wild population.

Subsequent to discovering the WSPA's claims against the Cayman Turtle Farm, we invited an international turtle expert to review our entire turtle population. No incidence of the diseases that the WSPA catalogue in their claims against the Cayman Turtle Farm were found at that time. 

The STC refers to the genetics of the turtles released, making reference to potential congenital defects. A further incorrect claim by the WSPA campaign centres on the presence of genetic mutations within our turtle herd.

Again, as part of the veterinary review subsequent to the WSPA's claims, there were no turtles found at the Cayman Turtle Farm with the genetic defects alleged. In fact, cases of genetic mutation at the Cayman Turtle Farm are extremely rare, and seem to be in line with the incidence of similar defects in the wild populations. In cases where turtles are found to have congenital defects impacting their quality of life, these turtles are humanely euthanised.

In any case, Cayman Turtle Farm follows rigorous release protocols for all animals to be released into the wild. As part of this process, juvenile Green Sea Turtles are selected for release; health checked and given appropriate preventative treatments; and quarantined for 30 days.

In response to the overall criticism that our release programme is a failed conservation effort giving a false impression of success, we stand by the 150 research papers released over the years, the number of requests we receive each year for educational internships and research partnerships, the ongoing research partnerships we have in place, our release of over 31,000 turtles into the wild, and the collated evidence of increased numbers of turtles returning to the Cayman Islands to nest.

In fact, 2012 has thus far been a record year for turtles nesting on Cayman Islands beaches. It has also been a very positive nesting season for the Cayman Turtle Farm, with over 41,000 eggs being laid at the facility and a higher hatch rate than has been seen in several years.

An upcoming turtle release will see 150 turtles released into the wild on that one occasion alone - thereby continuing our conservation efforts and aims to increase the wild population of Green Sea Turtles.

Through recent satellite-tagged turtle releases, we are also able to capture data on the behaviour of Green Sea Turtles released into the wild - where they go and what they do, and thus far we have seen that the satellite-tracked turtles we have released into the wild have adapted well to their new habitat.

Research done by the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment has proven that decades after release, once they reach maturity, some of these released turtles return to nest on Grand Cayman's beaches.

The Cayman Turtle Farm tags turtles with a "living tag" which was developed by Professor John Hendrickson and Lupe Hendrickson of the University of Arizona. This tagging method involves the auto grafting of a small, white dot of belly shell onto the turtle's dark coloured back. This is done when the turtle is only a few days old. As the animal grows, the dot grows with it. This tagging method is tremendously significant as it is the only method whereby a tiny sea turtle hatching may be identified as a 300 pound adult more than 15 years later on a nesting beach.

Information thus far correlated suggests that the turtles adapt well to natural conditions when released as yearlings. Significantly, the release programme of the Farm has demonstrated that released turtles do assimilate into a natural environment.

The Cayman Turtle Farm remains committed to the future release of turtles into the wild to maintain and increase the wild population and also to foster and continue ongoing research into the unknowns about sea turtles.

In response to the STC's reference to the WSPA's reports against the Cayman Turtle Farm with regard to the treatment of the turtles in our care, there is no animal cruelty at the Cayman Turtle Farm. Animal husbandry is carried out according to all internationally accepted humane standards. We are trying to conserve these turtles, and increase their numbers. Our efforts are devoted to their well-being and care.

Within the operations at the Cayman Turtle Farm, our primary focus is on operation as a unique, safe and sustainable tourism attraction supporting the research and conservation of sea turtles.

The Cayman Turtle Farm looks forward to directly addressing the WSPA's allegations, and by extension the STC's support of this campaign, with an independent review of our operations scheduled for December 2012.

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