Turtle farm gets permit

| 08/10/2008

(CNS): After operating in controvention of the Water Authority Law for several years the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm at Boatswain Beach in West Bay has finally been issued with a two-year discharge permit owing to what the Authority described as the farm’s commitment to meeting environmental impact requirements.

John Epp the complains commissioner undertook an own motion report into the Turtle Farm’s operations in January of this year because the farm was discharging water without a permit and not complying with the Water Authority law. The report found a series of problems at the multi-million-dollar facility including the unlicensed discharges of animal effluent into the sea. However, according to the Water Authority as a result of a year-long collaboration with the farm a permit was granted effective from 1 October 2008, for the wastewater from its turtle breeding pond and commercial turtle tanks.

The Authority noted that the permit is applicable to the current Turtle Farm only and any additional features and tenants, such as Dolphin Discovery, will require an application for a variation of the permit. It stated the permit had been issued under the law and was granted on the grounds that the Turtle Farm has demonstrated a commitment to reduce the impact of the Farm’s activities on the marine environment.

The authority said in a public release that several processes at the farm have been modified, that the required sampling and monitoring equipment has been purchased and installed and the services of experts in coral reef biology and aquaculture waste management have been retained.

However the farm is not there yet and the permit has been granted based on targets.

“Thanks to the Turtle Farm management’s commitment we now have a good understanding of the Turtle Farm operation and this allowed us to make informed decisions on the permitting requirements,” said Dr. Gelia Frederick-van Genderen, Director of the Water Authority. “In the permit, the Turtle Farm has been given an aggressive target to reduce its discharge of waste into the marine environment by 50 percent by 1 July 2009. We have every confidence that they will achieve this target.”

The releases stated that the Turtle Farm has reportedly already removed all wastes generated during the processing of turtle meat from their marine discharge and recently began testing bio-filters in their saltwater lagoon. Baffles have been installed in turtle tanks to reduce the outflow of excessive nutrients during feeding of the turtles. Additional measures to capture fine particles using various filters are planned. Implementation of the Waste Reduction Plan will include evaluation of the various measures and processes to optimize pollutant load reduction.

“The waste reduction requirement in the discharge permit is a necessary step because over the years the discharge of pollutants including organics, solids and nutrients, generated by the turtles at the farm have promoted an overgrowth of corals by algae in the nearby marine environment,” said Hendrik-Jan van Genderen, Water Resources Engineer for the Water Authority. “Reducing the pollutants will have the reverse effect in that the algae will die off and the environment will recover.”

Continuous monitoring by the Turtle Farm and the Water Authority over the course of the permit will provide the data necessary to determine effectiveness of the measures taken. Based on analysis of themonitoring results, the permit will be renewed after two years with revisions necessary to ensure continued improvement in the quality of the effluent discharge.

“We are committed to breeding endangered turtles, which we then release into the sea,” said Mr. Joseph Ebanks, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Farm.

“It goes without saying that we are fully dedicated to doing everything we can to prevent damage to our marine environment so that the turtles can once again thrive. We have set ourselves a very aggressive internal target to reduce our environmental impact to zero percent even though the permit requires only 50percent The Cayman Turtle Farm is the world’s most unique turtle breeding facility and has the potential to become a leading scientific research site.”

For many years the nutrients in the water discharged from the farm have been undermining the local marine environment and whil Epp found in his report which was released in June of this year that the farm had failed to cooperate sufficiently with the Water Authority van Genderen  said there had been a high level of cooperation between the Turtle Farm, Department of the Environment and the Water Authority over the past year.

“For their part the Department of the Environment was instrumental in reviewing data and identifying environmental impacts and threats. Although this has been a long process, mainly due to insufficient data in the beginning, we are confident that we are now moving in the right direction,” he added.

The Authority also noted that the planned Dolphin facility, adjacent to Boatswain’s Beach and a tenant of the Turtle Farm property will be subject to the same regulations as the Turtle Farm’s discharge permit, which will require a variation. The Water Authority has taken an “end of pipe” approach, it said and all effluent waste is monitored and regulated at a single point of entry and exit to the property, which encompasses the Turtle Farm and all its tenants.

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