AMENAZADAS DE FAUNA Y FLORA SILVESTRES
Segunda reunión de diálogo CITES sobre la tortuga carey del Gran Caribe
Grand Cayman (Islas Caimán), 21-23 de mayo de 2002
SOLICITUD PARA EL REGISTRO DE UN ESTABLECIMIENTO DE CRÍA EN CAUTIVIDAD
DE CHELONIA MYDAS EN GRAND CAIMÁN, ISLAS CAIMÁN
Este documento ha sido preparado por la Autoridad Administrativa del Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña e Irlanda del Norte, en nombre de las Islas Caimán)
Las Islas Caimán son un territorio de ultramar del Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña e Irlanda del Norte, compuesto por tres islas habitadas, a saber, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman y Cayman Brac. La Cayman Turtle Farm se encuenta en Grand Cayman.
El Reino Unido depositó su instrumento para aplicar la Convención sobre el Comercio Internacional de Especies Amenazadas de Fauna y Flora Silvestres en las Islas Caimán el 7 de febrero de 1979. La aplicación de la CITES en las Islas Caimán entró en vigor el 8 de mayo de 1979.
La Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) Ltd. se estableció con aproximadamente 180 especímenes adultos capturados en el medio silvestre y 250.000 huevos recolectados en los criaderos de Costa Rica, Guyana, Isla Ascensión y Suriname durante el periodo 1968-1978.
En la quinta reunión de la Conferencia de las Partes en la Convención (Buenos Aires, 1985) se examinó y se rechazó una propuesta para transferir del Apéndice I al Apéndice II la población cautiva de Chelonia mydas con arreglo a lo dispuesto en la Resolución Conf. 3.15, sobre cría en granjas.
Desde esa fecha, la Cayman Turtle Farm continuó su programa de cría en cautividad y en la actualidad cumple todos los requisitos enunciados en la Resolución Conf. 10.16 (Rev.), que permiten que los especímenes de Chelonia mydas derivados del programa de cría de este establecimiento sean definidos como especímenes criados en cautividad.
el establecimiento se fundó con un plantel adquirido legalmente en Costa Rica, Guyana, Islas Ascensión, México y Suriname – véase la sección 4;
el plantel fundador fue obtenido sin afectar adversamente a la supervivencia de la población silvestre – véase la sección 4.1;
produce progenie de segunda generación F2 en un medio controlado a partir de 1989; y
el establecimiento se ha mantenido sin que se hayan introducido especímenes del medio silvestre desde 1978.
En 1983 el establecimiento se redujo proporcionalmente cuando se procedió al marcado y a la liberación de miles de tortugas y el objetivo principal de la Cayman Turtle Farm pasó a ser la cría en cautividad de Chelonia mydas para el turismo y la preservación de la tradición ancestral de las islas de consumir carne de tortuga.
Los caparazones constituyen un subproducto de las tortugas que se matan para la producción de carne.
Cada caparazón preparado para la venta, como recuerdo para turistas, llevará una etiqueta metálica con el logotipo de la Cayman Turtle Farm , el código ISO para las Islas Caimán, un número único y el año de producción.
Todas las especies de tortugas marinas están plenamente protegidas por la legislación de las Islas Caimán. La CITES se aplica en las Islas Caimán mediante la Ley de protección y propagación de especies en peligro de 1978. Esta legislación está en proceso de ser revocada y reemplazada por la Ley de comercio y transporte de especies en peligro.
Si se adopta, la presente propuesta permitirá a la Cayman Turtle Farm utilizar, como recuerdos para turistas, una parte potencialmente valiosa (caparazones) de las tortugas verdes criadas en cautividad, que de otro modo se destruiría y que constituye el despilfarro de un valioso recurso.
La Autoridad Administrativa del Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña e Irlanda del Norte, en nombre de las Islas Caimán, presenta esta solicitud con arreglo a lo enunciado en la Resolución Conf. 11.14. En la justificación de la propuesta que figura a continuación se ha seguido la misma numeración de párrafos que en el Anexo 1 de dicha resolución.
1. Name of Operation Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) Ltd
The Cayman Islands Government owns the Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) Ltd. Its operation is administered by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Development and Commerce through a Board of Directors appointed by the Governor.
The name and address of the manager of the Cayman Turtle Farm is:
Mr Kenneth HYDES
PO Box 645GT
Cayman Islands BWI
tel. 345-949-3894 ext.229
e-mail: email@example.com 2. Date of Establishment 1968
3. Species Bred Green turtle, Chelonia mydas (Linnaeus, 1758)
Chronology of Significant Events in the History of Cayman Turtle Farm
1968 Operation commenced as a private company under the name Mariculture Ltd
1968-1978 Legal acquisition of founder stock (eggs and live turtles) from various sources.
1973 First production of eggs in captivity by wild-caught females.
1975 First farm-reared turtles (collected as eggs from the wild) mature and lay eggs in captivity.
CITES came into affect with Chelonia mydas included in Appendix-II.
US market closed.
Operation purchased by group of foreign investors and renamed Cayman Turtle Farm Ltd.
1977 Chelonia mydas transferred from Appendix-II to Appendix-I of CITES (14 February 1977).
1978 Farm achieves egg “self-sufficiency” through on-farm egg production derived from breeding by farm-reared and wild-caught females.
1980 Farm implemented a program to reduce the numbers of captive green turtles.
1983 Cayman Islands Government purchase ‘down-sized’ farm and operates re-named Cayman Turtle Farm (1983) Ltd. as private company to:
- promote tourism as principal source of revenue;
- release turtles into Caymanian waters; and
- produce turtle meat to supply the local market.
First production of eggs by first generation turtles breeding on the Farm.
New owners promote tourism rather than production as principal source of revenue.
1985 Ranching proposal for the population of Chelonia mydas captive on the Farm rejected by the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
1989 First production of captive-bred second-generation offspring.
1998 All exports ceased.
2001 Decision to seek CITES registration of the Farm as captive breeding operation.
Farm infrastructure badly damaged by Hurricane “Michelle” resulting in the loss of 88% of the breeding herd.
2002 Construction of post “Michelle” re-development plans underway.
4. Parental Breeding Stock & Legality of Acquisition
On 4 November 2001, the infrastructure of the Cayman Turtle Farm sustained major damages as a result of Hurricane “Michelle”. Immediately prior to Hurricane “Michelle”, the parental breeding herd comprised 182 founder11 animals (34 males & 148 females), 132 (54 males & 78 females) first generation breeders and 41 large immature first generation animals. The post “Michelle” breeding herd at the Farm comprised 34 (6 males & 28 females) founder stock, 47 (15 males & 32 females) first generation animals, and six (3 males & 3 females) animals of unknown origin (i.e. without tags).
Table 1 - Numbers and origin of Breeding Stock (pre- and post “Michelle”)
wild-caught adults (Mexico)
farm-reared stock (wild-collected eggs)
founder stock subtotal
captive born (F1) breeders
immature F1 retained for breeding
The Farm was founded on wild-caught adult turtles and eggs collected from various locations in the Caribbean Region and Atlantic Ocean from 1968 to 1978. Details of the acquisition of these animals, which comprise the “founder” stock of the Cayman Turtle Farm, are provided below. The majority of the founder stock constituted pre-Convention animals as the collections occurred before the Convention came into affect in 1975 (CR-1975; GY-1977; KY-1979; SR-1981 and MX-1991).
The first stock introduced to the farm in 1968 (to become part of the founder parental stock) was 350 juveniles (1-2 years of age), provided from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. These animals were collected as eggs in Costa Rica and raised experimentally with a view to repopulating the Caribbean Region (Simon, 1975). These animals constituted the first captive raised founder stock at the Farm, some of which matured in captivity and commenced breeding in 1975.
The remainder of the founder stock was derived from eggs and animals collected from Suriname, Costa Rica, Guyana, Ascension Island and Mexico from 1968-1978 as part of broader conservation initiative (Simon, 1975). All eggs and animals were obtained legally with the authorization and, in some instances, assistance of the government authorities. Eggs obtained were transported to facilities on Grand Cayman and incubated artificially. In accordance with separate agreements established with each source country, one percent of the resulting hatchlings was returned (as one-year old animals) for subsequent release at the collection sites. During this time, in addition to the return of hatchlings, source countries received equipment and training to initiate in situ head-starting conservation programs.
During the period 1968-1978, nineteen (19) egg collections were undertaken at rookeries in Costa Rica, Suriname, Guyana, and Ascension Island (an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom). Records of numbers of eggs obtained are incomplete and are summarized in Table 2.
As part of this initiative, eighty-eight (88) animals were obtained as adults or subadults between 1968 and 1973 from Costa Rica, Suriname, Guyana and Ascension Island. Because of difficulties experienced in capturing sufficient numbers of males in the vicinity of the nesting beaches, during the period September 1970 to May 1971, the Farm purchased male green turtles from Caymanian boats fishing the Mosquito Keys off eastern Nicaragua (Ulrich & Owens, 1974). Ninety-six (96) animals were also obtained from Mexico in 1976-1977. A significant proportion of the original founder stock (derived from wild-collected eggs) was processed for meat between 1980 and 1983, as part of the Farm’s policy of ‘down-sizing’ its stock holdings.
Table 2 - Known numbers of eggs collected from the wild (after Simon, 1975 and Fosdick & Fosdick, 1994)
No. of eggs collected
No. & Percentage viable eggs
Costa Rica (Tortuguero)
Costa Rica (Tortuguero)
Costa Rica (Tortuguero)
Guyana (Shell Beach)
Costa Rica (Tortuguero)
Costa Rica (Tortuguero)
? (possibly 60,0002)
? (possibly 60,0002)
? (possibly 60,0002)
? (possibly 60,0002)
? Records of the quantities of eggs collected during these expeditions are not available.
2 Agreement with the Government of Suriname allowed for a maximum of 60,000 “doomed” eggs to be collected annually.
4.1 Legality of Acquisition of Founder Stock
Although some correspondence remains from this period, no receipts or permits are presently available to support the legitimacy of these activities. Many of the personnel associated with this phase of the Farm’s development are either deceased or are otherwise unable to be contacted for verification. At a time when problems of marine turtle conservation were starting to be more widely recognized, these early activities played a major role in promoting a greater awareness of the need to conserve the green turtle and marine turtles generally, by the authorities in each of the participating countries.
4.2 Non-detriment Considerations An important element of captive breeding required in order to satisfy resolution Conf 10.16 (Rev) concerns whether or not the manner in which the founder stock was obtained had a detrimental affect on the wild population(s). Although the establishment of the Farm was based on the wild collection of more than 300,000 eggs from several geographically separate rookeries, Ascension Island and Tortuguero Beach, Costa Rica, were important sites from which significant numbers of eggs were obtained (see Table 2). Subsequent monitoring of nesting females at these locations indicates that both populations of nesting females were able to sustain, without any long-term adverse affect, the removal of substantial numbers of eggs over a 10-year period (1968-1978).
Following the Farm’s egg collecting activities, Mortimer and Carr (1984, 1987) conducted an intensive research on the reproductive ecology and behaviour of C. mydas on Ascension Island. These authors, together with Bowen et al. (1989), confirmed earlier work of Carr et al. (1974) that green turtles move easily between beaches on Ascension Island. The nesting population of C. mydas on Ascension Island can therefore be considered a single unit. More recently, Godley et al. (2001), using survey methodology comparable to that used by Mortimer and Carr (1987), estimated a total of 36,036 marine turtle nesting activities over the entire 1998/1999 season. This estimate represents a two- to three-fold increase in nesting activity over Mortimer and Carr’s estimates in the 1970s. Clearly, the collection of 66,000 eggs had no long-term adverse impact on the viability of the Ascension Island nesting population of Chelonia mydas.
The population of Chelonia mydas nesting at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, is the largest in the Atlantic by at least an order of magnitude (Lahanas et al. 1998). In a recent analysis of twenty-five years of nesting surveys undertaken on Tortuguero Beach from 1971 to 1996, Bjorndal et al. (1999) concluded that, despite high interannual variation in nesting emergence estimates, the data demonstrated an increase in average nesting activity over the period. The upward trend of the Chelonia mydas population using Tortuguero Beach suggests that the removal of many thousands of C. mydas eggs over a 5-year period 1968-1973 has had no lasting detrimental affect on the importance of Tortuguero Beach or the viability of the nesting population using this location.
It is unclear what monitoring has taken place of nesting beaches in Suriname and Guyana since the collection of eggs by the Farm. The removal of eggs from nesting beaches in Suriname was restricted to “doomed eggs” (i.e. eggs inundated by high tides). These collections were undertaken in accordance with a ranching program that was being administered by the Government of Suriname and submitted to (but rejected by) the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (Buenos Aires, 1985).
The single collection of 5,000 eggs from Shell Beach, Guyana in 1970 comprised eggs that would have been consumed by local Amerindian communities.
Figure 1 - Annual numbers of male and female founder stock
Figure 1, and the accompanying data table, present the chronology of establishing the captive population of founding parental animals. The initial build-up of parental animals during the early years of the Farm’s operation represents founder stock (acquired as eggs collected from the wild) that matured and became incorporated into the breeding herd. The Cayman Islands Government purchased the Farm in 1983 after the previous owners had initiated a program to reduce the size of the breeding herd because of the absence of significant trade. The Cayman Islands Government maintained the reduction program to minimize operational costs.
7. Current Stock (in addition to parental stock)
The captive population of green turtles (excluding the parental and F1 generation breeding stock) on the Farm, as at 31 December 2001, is 14,054 (see Table 3). An additional unknown, but significant, number of >1 year-old turtles are temporarily contained in a large saltwater pond elsewhere on the island. These animals were rescued on 4 November during the height of Hurricane “Michelle” and moved to a more secure location. This stock, which is being maintained and fed, will be retrieved, inventoried and accommodated in new facilities being constructed under the re-development plans for the Farm.
Table 3 - Present1 numbers of immature and non-breeding C. mydas (as at 31 December 2001)
Year of Birth (Age Cohort)
1995 (6 years)
1996 (5 years)
1997 (4 years)
1998 (3 years)
1999 (2 years)
2000 (1 year)
Quarantined (sick and diseased) animals
Footnote1 the numbers presented represent animals remaining at the Farm after Hurricane “Michelle”
Animals aged between 4-6 years are processed for meat or selected for inclusion into the breeding herd. The numbers of immature turtles presented in Table 3 represent a mixture of F1 and F2 progeny. It is not possible to differentiate between male and female C. mydas at these ages. Male green turtle may not begin to grow longer tails until after they are 5 to 6 years old.
8. Percentage Mortalities The mortality rates of all F1 captive-bred animals, over their first 5-years of life at the Cayman Turtle Farm, over a 10-year period (1991-2000) are summarized in Figure 2. The mortality rate during the first 18 months of life, although appearing high, is substantially less than is generally considered to occur in the wild (95 percent, Bjorndal, 1980), but constitutes an area of captive production that can be improved through further research.
Figure 2 – Percentage mortality rates of immature F1 generation Chelonia mydas
This Section outlines the breeding performance of founder stock that produced F1 generation turtles in 1973, and the subsequent growth and breeding history of these animals that, in 1989, resulted in the successful production of F2 generation animals. As indicated in Section 4, all the wild-caught adults were given an individual number. All subsequent animals that were included in the parental stock (e.g. farm-reared animals derived from eggs collected in the wild) were similarly identified. As a consequence, it has been possible to document the reproductive performance of each female in the breeding pond.
The first on-farm captive production occurred in 1973; however, this event was recorded for a wild-caught female from Costa Rica. The first production of hatchlings by known age, farm-reared green turtles occurred in 1975. These progeny can, therefore, be defined as F1 captive-bred generation. All reproduction takes place in the breeding pond. In 1981, the first large immature F1 animals were placed into the breeding pond but kept separate from the parental stock. All animals in the breeding pond are collectively referred to as the “breeding herd”.
Although eggs were produced on the Farm since 1983, it was not until 1989 that the Cayman Turtle Farm first succeeded in producing captive-bred F2 generation C. mydas. The following series of four histograms and accompanying data demonstrate the reproductive histories of the founder parental stock and F1 generation animals that have led to the Farm’s production of F2 generation captive-bred offspring. An additional histogram is presented that demonstrates the growth of F1 animals to reproductive maturity.
Figure 3 - Parental female nesting performance
F igure 3 presents the history of C. mydas nesting on the artificial beach within the breeding pond. These animals represent the parental stock, originally obtained as wild-caught adults (nesting in 1973 onwards) or animals derived from eggs collected from the wild (nesting in 1975 onwards).
The increasing numbers of early nests and nesting animals shown in Figure 3 reflects a combination of; i) increasing numbers of wild-caught females adapting to and reproducing in the artificial breeding pond, and ii) farm reared animals reaching maturity. Although not shown in Figure 3, the generally uniform number of nesting females in more recent years includes a significant proportion of females laying multiple egg clutches each year and a smaller number of females regularly producing eggs each year. The mean nesting cycle of the captive colony of Chelonia mydas at the Cayman Turtle Farm is 1.6 years (Wood & Wood, 1980). This phenomenon may indicate that the ability of a female to nest almost annually may be a function of food intake and general condition.
igure 4 - Production of eggs and hatchlings by parental females
# of eggs
Figure 4 and the above table present the number of eggs and resulting F1 hatchlings that were derived from the nests shown in Figure 3. The increasing egg production in the late 1970s - early 1980s reflects a similar trend during the same period towards increasing numbers of nests and nesting females and may be explained in the same way as Figure 3 (i.e. an increasing number of females reaching reproductive maturity). One female, hatched and reared in captivity from a wild-collected egg, commenced producing eggs in 1975 as an 8-year old animal. However, based on further observations, production of offspring at this age was very unusual. Regular production of eggs by farm-reared females when the animals had attained 10-years of age
Egg mortality, although appearing high, may be explained by age-dependent variations in the fertility and productivity of individual females. Differences in the ratio of sexes in the breeding pond and the mating times of each female will influence overall productivity. The aggregate figures will therefore be affected by which turtles are mature or laying, and by the individual productivity of the particular animal in a given year.
In 1981 sixteen (16) large immature F1 turtles (2 males & 14 females), aged 5-8 years were incorporated into the breeding herd. The weights of females ranged from 120-300lbs (mean=179.7lbs) and males from 145-225lbs (mean=181.3lbs). During the period 1981-1996 additional F1 animals, in varying numbers, were added to the breeding herd. Figure 5 and the accompanying table show the chronology, from 1981-2001, of establishing and managing the captive population of F1 generation breeding adults. Difficulties in definitively differentiating between immature males and females resulted in an increased male-female ratio in the late 1990s.
Figure 5 Numbers of Male and Female F1 Generation Breeders
anagement of turtles in the breeding pond enables the reproductive performance of the parental and F1 generation females to be differentiated. An internal barrier in the breeding pond separates parental animals from F1 animals (see Section 16.1). Further to this, all animals that are placed into the breeding pond are individually identified with a numbered plastic cattle ear tag, thereby enabling the breeding performance of individual females (parental and F1 generation) to be monitored. During annual inventories, first generation males and females are selected and marked as potential future breeders when they are 4-6 year old animals. Animals not selected as future breeders are slaughtered for meat. The foregoing management arrangements enable the production of F2 generation offspring to be accurately documented with a high degree of confidence.
Figure 6 shows the pattern from 1983-2001 of F1 generation C. mydas reaching reproductive maturity and commencing to construct nests on the artificial beach in the breeding pond. Figure 7 shows the numbers of eggs produced each year and the resulting F2 generation neonates.
Figure 6 - F1 generation nesting history
The first F1 generation female commenced nesting in 1983 when seven nests were constructed by two different females. Since that time, the number of nests and the number of nesting females have generally increased annually to the present time (see Figure 6). The mean minimum age to first egg laying exhibited by the thirty-one (31) F1 females, that have attained reproductive maturity, is 16 years (range 7-26 years).
In a pattern similar to that exhibited by the parental stock (see Figure 4), the numbers of F1 eggs incubated also increased over time (see Figure 7). However it was not until the1989 season that sixteen (16) F2 hatchlings were produced. Since that time, apart from a hiatus during 1993-1996, F2 hatchlings have been produced annually, in generally increasing numbers.
Figure 7 - Egg and Hatchling Production by F1 Generation Females
The F2 animals, produced at the Farm are maintained and exhibit similar weight gains and growth as their predecessors.
Although the numbers of F1 eggs produced have been generally increasing annually, the percentage that hatch to produce F2 generation hatchlings, albeit increasing, has remained low. The low hatching success of eggs derived from F1 breeders may be a consequence of immature females laying infertile eggs. However, the consistently low hatching success in both the parental and F1 generation breeding stock may be indicative of inappropriate incubation techniques. In the absence of any substantial export market for many years, the research budget was greatly reduced. Furthermore, production levels achieved have more than adequately enabled the Farm to meet local demand for meat. However, in an effort to maximize production and minimize unnecessary wastage, this aspect of the Farm’s production has been identified as a priority area for future research.
Figure 8 – F1 Generation Growth Rates against Time
Figure 8 displays the growth rates of all first generation C. mydas. The data presented represent the mean weight (in lbs) of all turtles taken at various times during their early-life maintenance in the grow-out pens and later when animals are housed in he breeding pond. During their time in the grow-out pens (0-72months), animals exhibit very close to a linear growth rate against time. Animals are processed as 4-6 year olds for either meat production or selected as future breeding stock (48-76 months) at which time animals are placed into the breeding pond. The columns at the far right (72-103 months) represent the earliest nestings by F1 females and shows the transition from immature stock to young adults. The corresponding weights represent the mean weights of all animals, including males, in each age cohort. Animals selected as future breeders appear to exhibit an accelerated growth rate in the breeding pond.
10. Production of First Generation – Management same as F2 Production Elsewhere Not applicable – The Cayman Turtle Farm is the only operation involving marine turtles that has achieved the captive production of second-generation animals (see previous Section).
11. Past, Present and Expected Annual Production
The first captive production of eggs by a wild-caught female occurred in 1973. The first captive production of eggs by a farm-raised, known-age female (obtained from a wild collected egg) occurred in 1975. The past breeding performance and annual production of offspring have been presented in detail in Section 9 as evidence of the Farm’s overall ability to successfully husband and breed large numbers of Chelonia mydas in a controlled environment to the second generation.
There has been some concern expressed about commercial farming of marine turtles being dependent on the use of Oxytocin to induce egg-laying by captive females. In 1977, during the expansion phase of the Farm’s development, an experiment was conducted using the pituitary hormone, Oxytocin to stimulate oviposition in an effort to promote egg-laying by females that had been raised from wild-collected eggs. The intravenous injection of Oxytocin to one 8 year old female turtle, derived from wild-collected eggs, at a rate of 4-units/Kg3/4 bodyweight, succeeded in inducing. In subsequent years, four (4) other females, that exhibited prolonged stress without laying, were administered 160 units/female, but with no success. Although the drug may be useful in assisting females that experience difficulty in laying eggs, its general application was not considered necessary and its use was discontinued.
As a consequence of the losses suffered from Hurricane “Michelle”, particularly the loss of 88 percent of the breeding herd, egg production for the next 10 years will be significantly lower than the levels achieved in the years prior to 4 November 2001. As a result of Hurricane “Michelle”, facilities at the Farm are being re-constructed, including a new breeding pond, (see Section 16.11). Following completion of the new breeding pond, the remaining breeding herd will be augmented with a selection of large F1 subadult animals. This new stock will take several years to attain reproductive maturity. The process of increasing the breeding herd to pre Michelle levels will necessitate mixing F1 generation breeders with parental breeders. However, all breeding animals are individually marked and easily identifiable. Although it will not be possible to readily identify the paternal male, the Farm will maintain the ability to monitor the reproductive performance of each adult female.
In the absence of significant commercial exports of products derived from captive-bred green turtles by the Cayman Turtle Farm, management has been directed to tourism and the production of meat for local consumption within the Cayman Islands. The slaughter process results in approximately fifty percent of the live weight of an animal being wasted. In the absence of any legal market for carapaces, this part of an animal is destroyed and disposed of together with the offal. The production of carapaces, therefore, represents a by-product of meat production. The fundamental purpose of the present proposal is to provide a mechanism, within the legal framework of the Convention that enables the Cayman Turtle Farm to utilize, in a productive manner, a component of turtles that has, in the past, been discarded.
Figure 9 shows the live weight (in lbs) production of turtles and edible product (meat and plastrons) derived from animals slaughtered at the Farm during the period 1989-2001.
Figure 9 – Live Weight Production and Edible Products
As the emphasis in the immediate future will be on replacing animals lost to Hurricane “Michelle” and augmenting the breeding herd with suitable F1 animals, the quantity of immature turtles slaughtered for local consumption, will be considerably less than the production levels that have been achieved during the 1990s. The numbers of juveniles released into Caymanian waters will also be reduced.
12. Assessment of Future Augmentation Needs
The need to augment the captive population with new wild-caught animals or eggs will not be necessary for many years, if at all. The founder stock, collected as eggs or adults over the period 1968-1978, was obtained from geographically wide number of sources (Ascension Island, Guyana, Suriname, Costa Rica and Mexico). Although not verified by DNA analyses, the founder parental stock is believed to comprise animals from genetically different populations. Given the geographic extent of the origin of the founder stock, genetic mixing has occurred from the outset of the Farm’s breeding program. As a consequence, the potential for inbreeding or any other genetically influenced deleterious affects of the closed-cycle captive-breeding program is believed to be minimal. In the event that indicators of inbreeding (e.g. deformities, reduced fecundity) are detected in the future, that cannot unequivocally be attributed to management procedures, the Farm will pursue appropriate genetic studies to guide parental pairing that maintains an efficient production system.
Original females (wild-caught animals and farm-reared from eggs collected from the wild) that first bred at the Farm remain reproductively active to the present time – after a period of nearly thirty years in captivity. Female green turtles exhibit an extended reproductive longevity. Over the reproductive life of a female, it has the potential to produce many thousands of progeny. This characteristic of green turtles, further reduces the risk of inbreeding and the need for augmentation.
13. Type of Product to be Exported Prior to the reduction in the number of animals on the Farm, large quantities of shell, leather, oil and meat were exported for commercial purposes. Following the reduction of the holding stock there has been fewer products to export and this all ceased in 1998. Since 1983 the operation of the Farm has been directed primarily to tourism and the production of meat for local consumption and the release of juvenile turtles for re-stocking Caymanian waters. With the exception of a small number of carapaces processed for sale locally, all carapaces (dorsal shell) have been destroyed. All other edible parts of the animals slaughtered are fully utilized as food on the Island.
The annual destruction of several thousands of carapaces represents a significant waste of an otherwise valuable resource that is capable of generating substantial foreign revenue for the Territory. A CITES registration of the Farm will permit the captive breeding operation to undertake commercial exports, as well as sales for export by foreign tourists, of processed carapaces as souvenirs. The proposal, if accepted, will permit the Farm to utilize a potentially valuable part of the farmed resource that is presently being destroyed.
Carapaces processed for sale as tourist souvenirs or commercial export will only be available through the Farm’s retail shop that is located within the Farm complex. All carapaces available for sale will be marked in a manner that is both tamper-proof and clearly identifies the product as being derived from the Farm (see Section 14).
Recent months have been characterized by a general downturn in tourism globally. The past and present commercial viability of the Farm has been, and continues to be, almost entirely dependent on tourism. CITES registration of the breeding operation will provide an important and complementary adjunct to tourism, as well as an important source of supplementary revenue.
14. Marking Methods and Product Identification All adult breeding turtles are individually marked and identifiable by the use of a numbered plastic cattle ear tag. The tag is inserted into the rear flipper. A “back-up” numbered titanium tag is inserted into an anterior flipper to compensate for tags that are lost. Hatchling and immature animals are not marked, but are maintained as discrete age cohorts in grow-out tanks. Tagging takes place when animals have reached five years of age and are selected as candidates for incorporation into the breeding herd. In the early years of the Farm’s head-starting program, all yearling turtles released into the wild were tagged. A variety of different tags were used (e.g. monel and stainless steel “turtle” tags, scute notches, “live” tags and plastic livestock tags for larger animals).
The minimum size of carapace that will be available for commercial export is sixteen (16) inches (40cm) straight length. All carapaces processed for sale and export will be individually marked using an aluminium plate (50mm x 40mm) bearing the following information:
“Product of the Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas bred in captivity at the Cayman Turtle Farm
Where: - KY is the ISO country code for the Cayman Islands
- 0001 is a unique serial number, and
- 02 signifies the year in which the specimen was processed
The metal label will be attached to the anterior inside surface of the carapace with epoxy rendering it difficult to remove without damage. The application of a replacement label, while possible, will appear as an obvious attempt to defraud barrier control officers.
In addition to the application of a non-reusable, unique numbered label, as a further measure to ensure exports are restricted to legally produced carapaces, each CITES Export Permit issued for a finished carapace will be accompanied by a digital image of the carapace(s) to which it refers. Each digital image will bear the number of the CITES Export Permit to which it refers and become an integral component of the Permit. A small adhesive plastic envelope will also be attached to the interior of each carapace for the purpose of containing the permit and digital image of the shell. In this manner, it will be possible for the image of each carapace that enters trade to be permanently retained with the shell.
15. Inspection and Monitoring Procedures All marine turtles are protected in the Cayman Islands under the Marine Conservation Law and the Marine Conservation (Turtle Protection) Regulations. Under the legislation, which is administered by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Development and Commerce, the capture, possession, trade and export of protected species is prohibited unless authorized by permit. The Cayman Islands Government has maintained a policy of prohibiting the export of all species of marine turtle, including their parts and manufactured products derived from marine turtles.
CITES is implemented by the Cayman Islands by the Endangered Species Protection and Propagation Law of 1978. The legislation prohibits import and export of live or dead specimens of CITES-listed species without a permit. The present CITES legislation will shortly be repealed and replaced by the Endangered Species (Trade and Transport) Law. The new legislation, which is in final draft form has been developed in close consultation with the UK Government and the CITES Secretariat, is expected to be signed into law in 2002. Even though the Cayman Islands Government owns the Cayman Turtle Farm, under the new legislation it will require a license to operate.
The legislation will allow the Management Authority to apply conditions to licences. As a condition of its license to operate, the Cayman Turtle Farm will be required to submit regular returns of its holdings, detailing the numbers of turtles hatched and slaughtered. The Farm’s facilities and records will be subject to regular inspections and audits by officers of the Scientific and Management Authorities. Export permits will be issued on the basis of the Farm’s compliance with its licence conditions.
All turtle shells processed for sale (and export) through the Farm’s retail outlet represent a by-product of on-farm mortality or animals that are slaughtered for meat. At the beginning of each year, the Farm will be required to submit estimates of morality and the projected number of turtles to be slaughtered and processed during the year. In the case of carapaces exported as tourist souvenirs, the Management Authority of the Cayman Islands will allocate blocks of serial numbers to the Cayman Turtle Farm for application to computer-generated CITES export permits issued by the Farm at the point of sale. When a particular allocation of export permit numbers has been exhausted, the Farm will be required to account for each permit number previously issued by the Management Authority. New allocations will be contingent on the Management Authority being satisfied that all the previous numbers have been accounted for and accurately recorded by the Farm.
Commercial exports will not be eligible for the foregoing facilitated procedure. In order to undertake commercial exports, the Farm will be required to submit an application that will be assessed and approved by the Scientific Authority in the normal manner before the Management Authority issues the CITES Export Permit.
16. Description of Facilities and Management Procedures
The Cayman Turtle Farm is situated on the northwest coast of Grand Cayman, and occupies a total area of 10 acres. The Farm owns an additional 6 acres that, prior to Hurricane “Michelle”, have not been used and remain available for future development (see Section 16.11). The infrastructure associated with the husbandry and production of turtles is shown in the site plan at Annex 1, and comprises the following facilities:
i) A large (0.27 acre) breeding pond (780,000gal) with an artificial nesting beach;
ii) A 30 x 50 feet hatchery building;
iii) 33 small (2.5 x 3 feet) and 19 large (5 x 3 feet) hatchling enclosures; and
iv) 21 x 775gal. fibreglass; 9 x 11200gal concrete and 12 x 31300gal concrete grow-out tanks.
The grow-out tanks located near the sea were extensively damaged by Hurricane “Michelle”. Structures that survived Hurricane “Michelle” include; 12 x 775gal; and 3 x 11200gal tanks. The three remaining 11200gal concrete tanks all sustained varying degrees of storm damage, but are currently in temporary use until new facilities associated with the re-development are completed. All other grow-out tanks are located across a road that bisects the Farm, and did not sustain any storm damage. The facilities and management procedures applied for the annual production of green turtles equate to a “closed environment” as required by resolution Conf 10.16 (Rev.)
In addition to the infrastructure associated with producing and raising turtles, the facilities also include a slaughterhouse, administrative building, retail shop, storage building and a pumping facility.