Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Welfare compromised at sea turtle farms

Posted: 25 February 2013. Updated: 27 February 2013


Despite continued controversy over the farming of turtles, this commercial practice still continues at places such as the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) on the Grand Cayman Island, which breeds green turtles.

The CTF currently operates largely as a tourist facility and provides turtle meat for the local market. An inspection of the CTF in December 2012 highlighted a number of welfare issues and stated that “A notable proportion of animals had quite severe skin lesions that include deep ulceration to the shoulder, forelimbs, head and hind limbs”. Worryingly the report also acknowledged that recommendations to improve the health of the turtles at the farm had been made previously but not been acted upon.

In addition to the welfare of the animals being compromised, human health is also at risk from exposure to sea turtles. A 2013 paper using the CTF as a case study concluded that “Human contact with and consumption of wild caught and captive-housed sea turtles and their products present a recognized potential threat to health from a variety of pathogenic sources”.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a legally binding treaty (international law), an agreement between governments regulating international trade of endangered and protected species. Government representatives meet every three years at their Conference of the Parties (COP) to discuss and vote on changes to the international law on wild animal and plant trade.

At the 2002 CITES meeting, ADI successfully campaigned for the protection of green turtles in relation to farming at the CTF.

The UK government had proposed allowing the sale of turtle shells from the CTF to tourists. Because green turtles are a CITES Appendix I listed-species, international trade is prohibited and it is not permissible for the farm to export or sell to tourists turtle shell products to take home.

The UK, on behalf of the Caymans, claimed that the shells from the farm would be specially marked differentiating them from non-marked, illegal shells. ADI raised a series of concerns to this proposal including: the potential to stimulate illegal trade; the lack of an adequate promotional campaign to differentiate between legal and illegal shells; lack of measures to prevent counterfeiting once “legal” shells were on the market; the source of the founder stock for the farm was not properly accounted for.

At the CITES meeting, the UK’s proposal had strong opposition from every other Caribbean country, and from Israel and the USA, who were opposed because it would open up an illegal shell problem via American tourists. The Costa Rican government also disputed claims that turtles had been legally obtained from its shores. The proposal failed to obtain sufficient votes when other EU countries changed their position and abstained.

What You Can Do

  • Please do not visit turtle farms as the Cayman Turtle Farm or buy turtle shell products, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Read about ADI’s successful campaign to stop the trade in turtle shells from the farm
  • Support ADI and keep up-to-date with our campaigns by ‘liking’our facebook page and signing up to our eAlerts

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