Trouble in ‘Turtle Town’

| 29/04/2008

By Wendy Ledger (Thursday 17 April)

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4 comments

News that the environmental activist group Global Green Caribbean has
pulled its support of Boatswain Beach’s Earth Day celebrations this
weekend because it’s green credentials fall short of the mark is
another problem on the growing list of issues facing the Turtle Farm.
Last month, acting Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of
Boatswain’s Beach, Joey Ebanks, admitted that the farm was having
trouble with the theft of the creatures and a failure to breed them
successfully. In an interview with the Caymanian Compass, he also acknowledged that the turtles were an
endangered species.

When someone does something wrong or is having problems with addiction
we often consider that the first step on the road to recovery must be
an admission of guilt, culpability or an acknowledgement of the
problem. All of us who care about biodiversity and the environment
should therefore welcome the comments he made that the turtles sold to
the public and restaurant are part of a trade in an endangered
species.

In a plea to his customers to cut down demand because of numerous
problems that seem to be plaguing the breeding programme, he said,
““It needs to drop to about once a week, which is ideally where it
should be. It is an endangered species.”

The admission that we are attempting and, it must be said, failing to
breed this creature in captivity because local people insist on eating
it, regardless of its status, is not necessarily going to help improve
the farm’s green status, but at least Ebanks has raised the issue that
the Turtle Farm is more of a butcher’s shop than a conservation
programme.

He noted too that the demand comes from local restaurants not those in
the tourist sector. All over the world, foods and in particular marine
species that were once traditionally enjoyed by local groups are in
danger.  As a result many people are sacrificing the food they
like to eat to try and save a particular species from extinction. A
viable comparison, which we have made on these pages before, is the
Cod in the North Atlantic. Gradually, across Europe and especially in
the UK, lovers of this tasty fish are recognizing that if they want to
ever eat this fish in the future they need to give it up now until the
natural stocks regenerate themselves.

Once a species is extinct, regardless of what the creationist may
preach, it is done for, finished, caput, end of story. Turtles evolved
and if we eat them all there will be no survival of the fittest. They,
like the dodo and probably very soon the panda, tiger and polar bear,
will be finished and they will not come back. Extinction is a very
final thing.

As yummy as many people here think turtle meat is, our community is
far from starving. There are numerous other healthy and delicious
things that we eat that are not about to become extinct. Provided that
we continue to manage our fish stocks and avoid taking creatures
during breeding times, and maintain and enforce marine regulations,
there will continue to be plenty of seafood alternatives. For those
that eat meat, the world so far is good for pigs, cows, goats, lamb
and chicken for the foreseeable future.

There is no reason at all for us to be eating turtle meat other than
the fact that people like it and have always eaten it. Eating an
endangered species, even when it is farmed, sends the message that it
is OK to eat a creature that is at risk and it continues to perpetuate
the desire for the meat.

This may be a controversial subject because many people believe they
have a right to eat what they want, but this is not the ‘thing’ to
make a stand about national identity and politics of difference. This
is a creature in trouble and, as the head of the turtle farm said,
it’s endangered. We can but hope that this admission is the first step
on the road to recovery for the turtle at least.

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Nicky: Before meat eaters get too comfortable with
themselves, they should read George Monbiot’s piece in The
Guardian
. Eat your veggies.

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Claudette Upton: At last, the Turtle Farm has a
director who is honest enough to face the facts and speak about them
publicly. What a change!

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David Miller: I was told by a marine biologist that
the main problem with our turtle farm is inbreeding. He was educating
me into something I never knew before. All farms, (chickens, goats,
cows, alligators) have to change their breeding stock or they will
progressively create less and less animals as the years go by. So he
was explaining that it would happen in the future in the turtle farm.
This was told to me 10 years ago one day while I was giving a tour
about the turtle farm. 

When we think about our future we have to agree with global warming.
Well there’s going to be more sea and less land, right? So our
children and grandchildren will probably not be able to afford beef
and chicken. So it would seem that with all of that ocean out there we
should create more turtle farms and exchange breeders like other farms
have been doing for hundreds of years in the past. What we have
forgotten in all of these arguments is that cattle make one calf per
year and is not an endangered species because we have made it into a
business. We have a lot of farms, if we didn’t it would have probably
have become an endangered species.          
                   
                   
         

In my opinion the true reason that we don’t have a lot of farms is we
have created an emotional feeling about some animals and not others.
For instance, if I calla cow it will come. If I call a turtle it
won’t. The turtle will smell food and create a response to stimuli
with the sound of a boat engine and know that food comes when he
senses the sound. But cows have more human qualities such as
protecting their young. They are mammals; the calf sucks milk from its
mother, etc. But alas the turtle does not; it goes up on a beach drops
150 eggs up to 10 times per year and is not human-like at all.
Actually, very similar to crocs and alligators. Strange thing is they
are not endangered. I believe the only reason being they have
different breeders. Our turtle farm has the same breeders since the
inception of the farm by Archie Carr.

Dr. Balazs conservation efforts in Hawaii have proven successful
and he has declared a 600% increase in population: 55,000 mating
turtles and 155,000 juvenile turtles. Even the Leatherback has
increased in population in Trinidad. So I believe it CAN be done at
the turtle farm. We have to. Our children will need it.

My problem from all of this endangered species of turtles from
the sea is, how many did we have to begin with? Are we saying that sea
turtles prior to Columbus’ discovery was a proper way to count them?
Is it correct? Is the weather a problem? So many questions need more
research.    

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Chris Randall: The problem with the Turtle Farm, as ever, is
that it doesn’t know what it is supposed to be. When the original farm
grew out the defunct Mariculture operation it was as a research
facility, beginning with captured turtles and then, as breeding
techniques were perfected, becoming self-sufficient and finally
producing more turtle than were needed for research. 

This enabled a quasi-commercial butchering business to develop, in
tandem with the introduction of licensing of turtle fishermen, the
declared intention being to eventually eliminate the catching of wild
turtle from the sea. This, it was hoped, would demonstrate to those
responsible for CITES that, although Chellonia Midas, in particular,
was endangered, the Farm could be classified as a genuine ranching
operation and thus it’s products would be exempt from the ban on trade
in turtle products. It didn’t work!

All of this is well-known so I apologise for regurgitating it.

Throughout the life of the farm, visitors were admitted, initially for
a nominal charge, and a small shop was operated selling shells and
items made from turtle-skin. I still have a business-card wallet
bought there in 1978.

There is an inherent conflict between the operation of a research
facility and a tourist attraction and, as we saw with the departure of
Dr Jim Wood, the tourist lobby won and research dwindled to nothing.
What we have now is simply a zoo.  Various creatures, avian and
aquatic, have been imported and placed on display to provide variety;
after all when you’ve seen one turtle, you’ve seen them all. 
Zoos do not usually slaughter their exhibits, which would seem to be
rather self-defeating.

The time has come to either admit and accept that this is, in fact, a
zoo and operate it as such, or abandon the whole expensive project and
go back to proper research and thereby regain some worldwide respect.

 

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Category: Viewpoint

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