11 September 2013

A culture of turtle meat. Really?

Photo from earthfirstnews

The IUCN [1] currently lists sea turtles as vulnerable (Lepidochelys olivacea), endangered (Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas), and critically endangered (Eretmochelys imbricata, Dermochelys coriacea) wildlife, worldwide. But, in the 1700s, these animals were abundant and  commonly used as a source of food for crewmen on trans-Atlantic ships [2]. Centuries of harvest led to a rapid decline in the natural sea turtle population. In the 1960s, a turtle farm was established  in the Cayman Islands [2], which bred turtles in captivity to provide a sustainable supply of turtle meat to cultures with a palate for it. One of the advantages, as argued by the farm owners is that this will eventually discourage poachers from harvesting turtles in the wild. The Cayman Turtle Farm has been operating for more than 40 years now, and has in the meantime also evolved to a flourishing cruise ship tourist attraction.
Emily in Marine Life presents a description of the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Photo by Linda Garrison

Apparently, tourists all over the world who come to this place are introduced to the biology of sea turtles, including a description of their natural habitat. However, the pools shown to tourists are overcrowded and swimming in  murky water, polluted with food pellets floating on the surface. [3]. But, the farm’s treatment of sea turtles contradicts much of their “natural habitat”, which is the vast open ocean. Exposing children to a picture of an overcrowded stagnant pool, which may even harbour diseases such as Salmonella, viruses, fungi and parasites that can be passed on from turtle to humans [4],  is not a desirable educational experience, is it? It might be time for the Cayman Turtle Farm to review its sea turtle manual and provide the sea turtles it breeds with a habitat that reflects more of its natural habitat.

To know more about sea turtles and their natural habitat, visit SeaLifeBase.

[1] IUCN (2013) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. http://www.iucnredlist.org/ [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[2] Morriss, A. (2006) Survival of the sea turtle: Cayman turtle farm starts over. Property and Environment Research Center Report 24(3). http://perc.org/articles/survival-sea-turtle [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[3] Cayman Turtle Farm Island Wildlife Encounter (2013) Turtle encounters. http://www.turtle.ky/turtle-encounters [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[4] Tripp, E. (2013) Sea Turtle Farming: Conservation or Cruelty? Marine Science Today, http://marinesciencetoday.com/2013/01/29/sea-turtle-farming-conservation-or-cruelty/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+MarineScienceToday+%28Marine+Science+Today%29 [Accessed 6/9/2013].

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