Scientists find guests at risk from handling turtles

| 05/02/2013

1012841 (258x300).jpg(CNS): Although the Cayman Turtle Farm insists that the handling of their captive turtles is safe for visitors, research published by the Royal Society of Medicine has found otherwise. According to the scientists, while it may be safe to handle wild turtles, the captive animals can expose tourists to toxic contaminants and zoonotic pathogens that can jump from animals to people. Symptoms from these bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites don’t always show themselves immediately and on the surface can seem like gastrointestinal disorders or flu, but seriously affected people can suffer from septicaemia, pneumonia, meningitis and acute renal failure. (Photo by Michelle de Villiers)

The research by the London based medical journal contradicts claims by the CTF that there is no risk to visitors, a point it has been at pains to stress after the cruise lines, which send a significant number of passengers on trips to the farm when calling on Grand Cayman, had raised concerns about the risks to their customers.

The scientists confirm findings by the animal activist charity, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which is campaigning for the CTF to transition towards a conservation facility. The biggest bacterial culprits are E.Coli and Salmonella, although there are some lower infection threats from viruses such as Vibrio.

Holiday experiences that expose tourists to sea turtles may allow people to pick up the animals from confined pools, although some even allow tourists to eat turtle meat raised in intensive farm-like conditions.

The paper included a case study from the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) in Grand Cayman, which is unique as the only facility in the world to rear sea-turtles as meat available to the public, as well as being open to the thousands of tourists which pour off the cruise ships onto the island every day. The intensive and cramped conditions which the farm works under – in both the production and front of house tourist areas – can serve to concentrate these pathogens and increase risk to those people visiting the farm, the research revealed.

Clifford Warwick of the Emergent Disease Foundation, the lead author of the report, warned that the distribution of visitors exposed to the turtle farm presented opportunities for contaminants to spread through tourist hubs, including cruise ships and airline carriers.

Warwick expressed concerns that awareness of the potential human health threats posed by facilities such as the CTF may not be well understood by healthcare professionals and public awareness may be even lower, stating that overcoming this would be key to prevent and control the spread of sea turtle-related diseases.                                                                 

Due to this low awareness people rarely trace back or attribute their illness to a recent experience handling wild sea turtles. This, along with the often generic nature of the symptoms, makes it hard to track the full distribution of these pathogens.

The WSPA’s campaign leaders said the charity was not surprised by the scientific findings.

“This independent peer reviewed scientific paper demonstrates that the recent assessment of the Farm’s operations is inherently flawed,” he said “We hope that the Cayman Turtle Farm recognizes that the only real way to completely remove the human health threat will be to end the ‘unique wildlife encounter’ currently at the facility and takes steps to do so, which will also immediately improve the lives of the turtles in their care.”

The CTF, however, hason a number of occasions denied any risk to its visitors by handling the turtles. Following an inspection commissioned by the farm in December the CTF management said the inspectors confirmed there were no health or injury concerns with regard to guests handling turtles, either for the turtles or for the humans interacting with them.

In a short comment on Tuesday morning, which a spokesperson for the CTF said would be followed up with a more comprehensive statement, officials said the allegations were  misleading and sensationalised.

"The Cayman Turtle Farm follows and enforces strict turtle handling protocols that are communicated to its guests through signage and spoken instructions. All turtle handling is supervised, and the established protocols follow the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for the safe handling of reptiles," the spokesperson added.

The farm said the lack of risk to humans was supported as over 40 years millions of guests have handled turtles but there has not been one single  known case of transmission of illness or disease.

"This is a clear effort by the WSPA to undermine the business of the CTF in its on-going goal to shut down our operations, since their campaign thus far has been unsuccessful," the CTF stated, undermining comments by the WSPA that during its recent visit with farm management lines of communication had been opened.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm a retired scuba diving insructor and I am convinced that people are not getting any disease from the turtle farm. I have been giving guided tours of the CTF for 25 years. I have moved 20-29 people six times a week holding and touching and kissing turtles on their head. On many occasions while trying to impress the tourists I have licked the shell with my tongue over 25 years. I also smoke cigars and drink rum. 

    I feel this is baloney based on emotion about a sea creature that was seen by the tens of thousands by Columbus.  Other people  would stop by to replenish their sailing ships before taking the long voyage back to europe ate sea turtle . My grand father and his brothers brought sea turtles to the USA to sell to americans. There are pictures of caymanian sailing vessels in places around the piers showing them bringing turtles for sale . (Places like tampa, St petersburg at the pier place).

    I think it is time to create a petition by tourists and locals to show that these statements are full of crap.


  2. Anonymous says:

    I am Caymanian, and I DO NOT eat Turtle Meat. Not ALL Caymanians eat Turtle.  The smell alone when it's cooking is absoulutely atrocious. 

    I am sick and tired of paying high import duties, in order to pay 8 million a year for the turtle farm, so a handful of selfish Caymanians can eat sickly and diseased trutles. 

    When one of these tourists get really, really, sick off of touching the sickly and diseased turtles at the Turtle farm and the 50 million dollar law suit comes in. Run go tell Granny about that, you hear. 

  3. Anonymous says:

    I dont' care about the turtles.


    I care about 8 million dollars of public money being flushed down the toilet every year to support a group of incompetant and possibly corrupt (remember Joey Ebanks and his "extra" $5,000 per month plus huge bar bill) individuals from West Bay.

  4. Whodatis says:

    Actually, this issue is not worth the time and attention.

    (Initial post revoked.)

  5. Anonymous says:


    "Despite the substantial scientific evidence of the potential for negative human health effects from consuming sea turtle meat and eggs, until recently little work had been conducted to educate communities that may be affected or the public health workers in those communities."
    Locals fret about the high rate of cancer here – could there be a connection? 
    • Animaliberator says:

      Applying a bit of common sense here we can easily assume that just about anything is possible. The question is: Is it and based on what evidence? Science or history?


      Some commenters have lost the objective here a little bit and want to keep the CTF open no matter what takes place there as long as they can have their steak. If that would be all we have to care about, well, fair enough I guess as some people simply do not care where meat is coming from regardless of species.


      This all started with the initial argument of animal welfare as a whole which is severly lacking at CTF, no doubt about that by now. If all of us keep that as a first priority, then maybe there is a chance the CTF can somehow survive but relevant parties need to communicate with each other instead of bashing each others head in that all of this is nothing more then one big lie, which of course it is not. And then of course comes the money part. Are all of us willing to keep financing the CTF for what it is worth? Perhaps, but that will depend on how much common sense we really have which will be based on the final outcome, if there ever will be one the way this show is going.

  6. Donatello says:

    1, More people got sick from a single outbreak of Salmonella on leafy greens in the US last year than have gotten sick from the turtles at the farm in the last 40 years!!!

    2, Wild turtles carry disease as well…

    3, Wild turtles have a much shorter life expectancy due to their natural predators – WHO EAT THEM!!!

    4, Wild turtles get stressed by divers and passing boats, not to mention poachers and their natural predators…

    5, In response to the farm channeling waste into the sea, last I checked, turtles don't have flushing toilets that neatly carry their poop to a sewage farm to betreated…

    When at the farm, use common sense, be gentle with the turtles, wash your hands and enjoy the unique facility!!!  


    • Anonymous says:

      how do you know this?

      • Donatello says:

        Because I am a Ninja Turtle…  We have grown wise since you last heard from us in our teenage years.  And if anyone knows about mutants, it is us….



  7. Anonymous says:

    Kiss mi Grannie! What are they going to come up with next, just to get rid of the turtle farm. You people don't have anything else to do? Leave our Turtle Farm alone, the only people it will hurt is tha Caymanian people, because we eat and love our turtle meat. I've been picking up these turtles for years and I've never gotten sick. All the sickness is coming from XXXX, WSPA and these damn UK Scientist. Come here let us show some turtle meat down unnah throat and tell me if you got sick? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!  You all are just trying to spread propaganda about Cayman and the Cayman Turtle Farm. Go study whales in captivity, dolphins in captivity and other exotic animals, but leave our turtles alone.  Find a life!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    is this like the foot and mouth they had in the UK or not as serious ? just want to know what we are dealing with , always helps.

    • N Somniac says:

      Apparently eating too much of the stuff can make you narrow-minded, xenophobic, hyper-religious and vote for crazy people.

  9. Anonymous says:

    a failed conservation facility that inhumanely treats and slaughters an endangered species is just wrong….what is wrong with you?????

  10. WSPA sista says:

    Run for your lives. The sky is falling.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Well if that was true I should be sick. I always put my finger in my mouth afterwards for 25 years sometimes twice a day to show there is no danger. Then I would top it off by eating a bowl of turtle soup which was always hot or conch fritters with my hand. I would put ice into the soup with my hand to cool it off.

    Are you sure you reading that research properly? Well come on down and research me. I must be an alien from another planet.

    • Anonymous says:

      By the sound of that pile of crap, yes you are. Explains why the reptile eaters are so addicted to their disgusting menu.

      • Anonymous says:

        Pile of crap do you know me? I can prove what I wrote can you? I bet you that the so called scientists who claim this crap are being paid to say this crap. Try that and prove that.

        • Anonymous says:

          I know a lot of Anonymous-es  I just keep getting them mixed up!

        • Anonymous says:

          If you can prove it, why didn't you write it yourself instead of asking someone else to do it. Are you completely stupid or just so poisoned by your antiquated view of the world that you don't understand proper debate? Doh !!

  12. Anynomous says:


    I know one thing if the government does that, their days are numbered.  Which ever government do it is going to be in serious problem, because this is nothing but another hunt to destroy Cayman.   Of course we do not have any real Men Caymanians left, or all those running for election would have gotten together and make some strong comments against these people.  What do we have here calling Caymanian Men cannot be trusted.  Do something instead of asking for an X in May.

  13. Anonymous says:

    That's a load of "UK BS" !!! People including very young children and elderly folks, have been handling turtles at the farm from1972 and never once have you heard of anyone getting any virus, bacteria or other disease from them. You are more liklely to get a disease from eating "Fish & Chips or Yorkshire Pudding" that getting sick from eating or handling turtles at the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm.   


    • Anonymous says:

      Lets be clear, we all know the nature of the beast we are dealing with here.

      Any and every means necessary will be adopted and executed to get what they want.

      As far as getting sick from picking up the turtles, which I don't agree with, anyone who gets sick is just simply nasty. Wash yah damn hands after you touch a animal!!

      Then again, I'm reminded of the many pandemics that ravaged the civilized civilations throughout history.

      Haven't we all learnt by now to wash our hands?!

      If your child has the habit of putting their hands in their mouth, don't add more fuel to the fire by allowing them to touch an animal then.  

  14. St Peter says:

    They have no reason to be picking up the poor little turtles…

    • Hawksbill says:

      In that case, people should not have dogs, cats or birds for pets. They are also picked up, locked in cages, etc etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        And that comment just confirms the local lack of care and dignity shown towards animals in general.

        No animal should be kept in a cage, period.

        For god sake get into the 21st century and out of the 19th.

  15. Truth says:

    More proof (just what we need) that facts can in no way be used to change a fool or fools into anything other than what they are.

  16. Anonymous says:


    I just watched "Animals that defy evolution" documentaries on Netflix (on Youtube is also available). Besides being fascinated with what I saw, I realized, animals, insects, birds etc. are so sophisticated critters, that I can't bring myself anymore to kill even a spider, let alone expose any critter to a stress by handling it for my "pleasure"

  17. Anonymous says:

    Turtles are at risk for being handled  as well. Not only from stress, but from human bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, as well as from chemicals on their hands (ingredients of tanning lotions, creams, sanitisers, etc).

  18. Anonymous says:

    Please check your sources. This paper was funded by the WSPA and merely publised on a Royal Society of Medicine website. The "research" itself was carried out by a team of WSPA-financed and affiliated academics lead by Clifford Warwick. Your article misleadingly says it was conducted by the Royal Society of Medicine. It was not.

  19. Anonymous says:

    What a load of crap. These lab monkeys will write anything.

    In a contest of reality vs. theory, reality wins the day here.

    People have been going to the turtle farm for decades and picking up the turtles. Don't you think that if this was a problem it would have been discovered by now?


    • Anonymous says:

      You've barely discovered you have dengue fever. No one has actually checked to see if anyone is getting sick from turtles.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Looks like the WSPA is hell-bent on shutting down the Turtle Farm. CTF makesthe excellent point that in over 40 years millions of guests have handled turtles but there has not been one single known case of transmission of illness or disease.

    • Anonymous says:

      How would they know? Because no one has sued them? How would we know if there had been complaints of illness that had been ignored? There is no organized record keeping.

      • Anonymass says:

        Same way they don't know that anyone has actualy gotten sick. You're more likely to catch a human disease from the humans penned up int eh airports you travel through or the ship you travel on or the group tours you take than from any petting zoo animal you play with. – Of course there is allways a chance that you might get sick. My office is probably festtering wall-to-wall with microbes right now. I hope youand WSPA come campaign to have it shut down before I might get sick.

  21. Anonymous says:

    the ctf report was a self funded whitewash. end of story.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The problem with this is that you could make exactly the same claim about 'petting zoos' and 'petting farms' where children can interact with a range of other creatures. Chickens in particular have been identified as carriers of salmonella and recorded outbreaks of E Coli amongst visitors to petting farms are fairly common.

    I'm not saying the research isn't valid in the case of CTF but it needs to be taken in context. This is a general warning applicable to all facilities where humans interact with other species, not a specific or isolated problem relating to CTF.

    • Anonymous says:

      I support the turtle farm but honestly folks, do you think the turtles live in some sterile lab?  They live, eat and poop in the same water and even though the water is exchanged regularly, something remains. The sea water contains organisms, the poop contains organisms.  Add sunlight and you have a veritable soup of organisims.

      I am not saying all those organisms are harmful or deadly but some of them might be. Billions and billions of germs can fit on the period at the end of this sentence.  

      While there are no recorded illnesses that happened, people that visit the farm usually have done alot of things that day and there might also be a delay in contracting something to the time when the first symptoms appear.  They might then not be able to attribute it to the CTF.

      I am not a germophobe and follow the 10 second rule.

  23. Mom knows best says:

    Yes.  Many years ago my child contracted salomella and was the only case on island with no recednt travel and no foods could be idenified  I cannot prove it, but we were at the turtle farm an 2 days before the incident which required hospitalization.  I'm not laying blame, but caution needs to be applied more.  Hand washing stations, hand sanitizers, and warning signs so people do not contract an illness.  Mom knows best…

    • Anonymous says:

      I second it, my daughter, 3 years old at the time, was in the main pool and afterwards went to the touch tank afterward before we left to hold the young turtles.  While it was heartwarming to see her holding them and talking to them as I did when I was a child, when we exited there was no soap or disinfectant available, just running water, which was surprising. 

      The next day, I noticed she had red eyes and the next day she could not open them when she woke  up.  We went to the GP, who gave her eye drops/cream and antibiotics.  

      I cannot prove it but I think she picked up the infection from either the main pool or the touch tank. That or the pool had too much chlorine.

      She had a blast and loved the water slide but I feel apprehensive about going there again.  

      I am born Caymanian and support the CTF but think something needs to be done about hygiene around the touch tanks and better 

      • Anonymous says:

        Now the stories will abound about suposed infections occurring at the farm.

        • Anonymous says:


          Let me think, there is a article about the possibility of contracting infections at the CTF.   Should I go to the Dart article and post about infections at the CTF there? Yeah that would make more sense?!

          Your damn right people are going to speak about it now as people may have thought about it before but dismissed it.  But now, since theres something small like scientific evidence to back thier theories up, they will now think about again. Duh.

          Alright, go on then, you go lick the back of 10 turtles and see what happens to you.  Prove that its impossible. You be the guinea pig.  

      • Anonymous says:

        3 years old at the time…


        Loved the water slide…


        uhhhh – isn't the water slide new????



        • Anonymous says:

          Uhhhhh we were there last year September, Her birthday was last month.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mom knows best, your pants is on fire.

      • Mom knows best says:

        Mom knows best, check the GT Hosp Pediatric Ward records- July 2007- child age 3 admitted with salmonella for three days to rehydrate.

        It was NOT FUN for the entire household to deliver POOP samples every three days for two full weeks following to the health department insure we were not contaminated too.  We had to all take medicine twice a day too.

        While you may not be ab le to check private records and I'm not going to give you my name, you CAN check with the CI Health Department and they will verify the case.

        So don't say pants on fire to MOM.  Moms do not lie.

        I cannot confirm, but all investigations led to the turtle famr experience to be the cause of the salmonella case.  Of course it was isolated and not reported in the media.  I would not want to cause a panic, but at the same time any workder at the Turtle Farm who sticks their finger in their mouth to say it is safe should be fired.

        I stand by my first post and that is to urge the washing of hands justlike any petting zoo.

  24. the truth says:

    Question – Have people not been comming here and handling these turtles for DECADES? Has anything in the history of the Turtle Farm in respects to visitors becomming ill EVER been reported or recorded? NEVER! I dont see why the media is so hell bent on entertaining these scientific biggits and their nonsensical idea's and studies of possible risk to tourist. Tell them to back that up with the vast number of people currently in hospital because of the Turtle Farm. Let me enlighten you my fellow Caymanians and Expats alike, that in the Big Cities when the big dogs have and agenda to push, you will see time and time again that MAGICALLY, one million studies and theries from highly respectable people and or institutions begin to appear out of thin air (David Copperfield)! If Sea World and the Zoo's all over England and America, along with the rest of the world for that matter, cant be shut down, i say to you submissive Cayman Islands government, don't you bow out to these biggits and there endeavors .

    Thought for the day: England was once the most cultural country in the world with a strong sense of who they were and considered the greatest empire of the modern world. They have now been reduced to a country of street signs in foreign language, riots, and to put it simple, the watering down of the good old english culture of class, respect, pride for self, country, valuesand their superior aristocracy. America – once the most admired country in the world, now reduced to biggiting, repugnant criminality, lack of basic humanity and compassion towards thier fellow countrymen. The greatest country as they have been so referred to can't even get their financies in order and thier kids to see past the age of 15 (hence the infinite amounts of suicides every year). This must not be allowed to happen to this country i call home, simply because people who come here to enjoy the island soon forget they are vistors whom should respect the culture and uniqueness of Cayman and start to push their own selfish objectives.