Sea Turtle Farming: Conservation or Cruelty?

Written by on January 29, 2013 in Marine Life, Sea Turtles

UPDATE (Feb 6) — A new study found that tourists who come into contact with sea turtles at attractions like the Cayman Turtle Farm (where the study took place) face risks of health problems.

The report notes that in terms of health, encountering sea turtles in the wild is not unsafe at all, but captive sea turtles can carry a whole host of health risks including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, which can be passed from turtles to humans.

Researcher Clifford Warwick of the Emergent Disease Foundation notes that the transmission of diseases from turtles to humans could be passed even further “into established tourist hubs including cruise ship and airline carriers.”

Green sea turtle.

Green sea turtle. Photo credit: NOAA.

Many people aren’t aware that turtle farms even exist but lately it’s been showing up in the news more often.

The Cayman Turtle Farm on the Cayman Islands is the last remaining turtle farm in the world. It opened in 1968 to breed endangered green sea turtles for meat. Since then, it has expanded to become a popular tourist attraction, with around 230,000 visitors a year. Unfortunately, the conditions of the farm leave something to be desired.

For example, tourists and visitors are allowed to pick up, play with and pose with the turtles, most of which are stored in small, overcrowded concrete tanks with dirty water.

Not only is it undeniably bad for the turtles, research shows that handling turtles can be bad for people as well. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a consumer update stating that turtles commonly carry Salmonella on their outer skin and shell.

In addition, research has shown that most tourists visiting the “Island Wildlife Encounter” believe it to be a conservation-based business, so they don’t know what their money is contributing to.

Most recently, it was announced that the Cayman Turtle Farm lost more than $7.9 million in the 2010/2011 financial year. However, the farm reported a few increases as well.

“Tour revenues increased 10 per cent [during the 2010/11 financial year] despite the decline in cruise tourism,” Tourism Minister Cline Glidden Jr. said. “Turtle meat sales increased 13 per cent.”

In response to campaigns and petitions, the Cayman Turtle Farm says that it always maintains the health of its animals and that they continue to operate a tourism attraction that supports research and conservation.

You can see the farm in the following video, but only watch it if you’re prepared to see some harsh conditions.

If this is an issue that concerns you, feel free to check out and/or sign the Humane Society International’s petition asking the owners of the farm to improve conditions for the turtles.



Green sea turtle.

Green sea turtle. Photo credit: NOAA.

To learn more, check out some of these links and articles:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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