World Turtle News, 02/01/2019
Cayman Turtle Centre, long controversial, says new study promotes its idea of sea turtle conservation that includes farming
(See also this article)
It’s not hard to agree with the fact that while sea turtle conservation is a big deal, changing the minds of local communities and cultures who consume the meat of these animals is not so clear cut. Archie Carr, a legend in the conservation community, spent years introducing the idea of sea turtle conservation to numerous communities, and he met with great success. The idea of protecting sea turtles rather than exploiting them for meat and other products was an idea that not only caught on but spread. Carr was able to influence numerous people to profit from protection of the turtles rather than the catching and consumption of them.
However, though Carr’s efforts were great -and his accomplishments impressive- the truth is that sea turtles continue to be caught by numerous peoples for the purposes of consumption and creation of turtle-based goods. Conservation often meets this wall, that of tradition versus scientific desire for intervention and protection.
The Cayman Turtle Centre was founded in 1968 in the Cayman Islands with one mission: to promote conservation of green sea turtles by breeding them but also to farm them for meat to sustain local demand. This has led to decades of controversy on their part. Is it right to farm a species either threatened or endangered depending on the specific population (but always at least threatened) in order to appease a culture’s desire to consume it? Is it noble or foolhardy to claim that as long as breeding also occurs, one can promote overall conservation of the species in this way?
Welcome to the heart of the Cayman Turtle Centre controversy. A new study published in Molecular Ecology earlier this month claims that the Centre’s reintroduction process, that of breeding and releasing a certain number of green sea turtles, has led to local recovery of the species overall. 90% of the Cayman nesting population is said to share DNA with the Centre’s captive stock, whether directly or through half-sibling relationships. At most, 150 female green sea turtles are considered to be nesting on the Islands at this point.
Many other locations in the world see much higher numbers of nestings due to reintroduction, and those nestings occur without the need to farm the turtles. Granted, these successes involve numerous different countries’ government programs and even local community involvements. Different countries have different views on cultural respect. The Cayman Turtle Centre has made waves due to its insistence that green sea turtle farming is necessary in order to stabilize its local community’s needs for both conservation and consumption. The fact remains, though, that the Cayman Turtle Centre stands alone in its practices of balancing these two forces. The Cayman Islands seem to really, really, like their turtle meat. Perhaps the Centre really is in a strange place, trying to balance its desire for conservation with an attempt to appease a strong cultural demand that requires time in order to understand the critical need to protect this species. Perhaps the species is being protected through this process.
Is it right to farm a species that anywhere in the world is at least threatened? Does a mere 150 nesting turtles count as recovery? Does farming this species allow for a transition toward greater protection of it or does it simply continue to fuel a desire for its meat and goods?
Again, welcome to the Cayman Turtle Centre controversy.
Turtle News From Around the World
USA: Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve in SC protects 1,600 acres for gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus)
Oman: sea turtles begin nesting on beaches, Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa and Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa helping protect and educate
USA: Roanoke’s STAR Center treating 37 cold-stunned sea turtles as of last week
South Africa: Herbie the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), rescued in 2003, released after nesting behavior, scientists curious if she will attempt to nest where she was born
USA: Mojave Maxine the desert tortoise has come out from brumation, “signaling” Spring for residents, encouraging conservation and education
USA: “Tortuga” the Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii) wanders into CA garage, becomes ambassador for his species
STUDY: “Warming seas increase cold-stunning events for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the northwest Atlantic”
Australia: spotting of sea turtle off Forster Tuncurry bridge in New South Wales delights passers-by
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Photo from Taneos Ramsay.