Farm claims success with return of nesting turtle
(CNS): In the face of mounting financial woes and international pressure from activist groups, the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm said the return of another farm turtle to nest in Cayman was an indication of the success of its conservation programme. A turtle nesting on Seven Mile Beach at the Grand View was discovered to be one tagged and released from the farm in 1987, officials said. This one turtle adds to a list of only 60 turtles from 31,000 released over the last 45 years that have actually come back to nest. Nevertheless, the addition was marked by the farm as important evidence that the tagging programme works.
From the 31,000 that have been released into the wild, 24,000 of those turtles were tagged and 4,500 given ‘living tags’ -- a technique pioneered by Professor John Hendrickson and Lupe Hendrickson of the University of Arizona.
“This discovery in early January has been of significant importance because yet another ‘living tagged’ female demonstrates that turtles released by the Cayman Turtle Farm are continuing their life cycle by successfully nesting on Cayman’s beaches. It is always particularly heartening when one of our own turtles returns home to breed,” Walter Mustin, the farm’s chief research officer, said in a release.
In recent years the farm has selected around a dozen juvenile turtles at about one year old to be released. In the past the numbers were far greater but following the decimation of the farm by Hurricane Michelle in 2001 the numbers in the release programme were dramatically reduced and there were several years in which no turtles were released at all.
Once released, the turtles spend as much as ten years in the ocean before returning to the coast, foraging for food and slowly maturing. It is estimated that it takes a turtle between 20 and 30 years to reach sexual maturity in the wild, and once they do, they migrate to nesting areas to breed. Females come ashore to lay their eggs, frequently to the same spot where they were born, although this is not always the case.
“Our tagged turtles may well begin nesting in other locations apart from Grand Cayman,” said Geddes Hislop, the farm’s curator. It is not possible, therefore, for the farm to say how many of the female turtles in the remaining 30,939 animals that were released have survived.
The baby turtles in this latest nest were among the last to hatch this season after a fall in temperature delayed several of the nests from hatching. The farm said that about 30 eggs hatched but no live turtles were found and around 70 unhatched eggs were discovered by the Department of Environment’s research officer, Janice Blumenthal, and her colleague Paul Chin.
Hislop said the discovery was a great start to the year. “Seeing the results of our head starting programme takes many years of patient waiting so this recent find is a testament to the programme’s ultimate success.”
However, there is a continuing campaign against the Turtle Farm following the findings of the charity World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) that documented a catalogue of problems relating to the condition of the turtles and the husbandry practices at the facility, and the discovery of just one new nesting female from the farm is unlikely to make 2013 a happy year for the struggling tourism attraction.
A report from a review commissioned by the farm is expected to be published shortly in connection with the damning findings of the charity, which farm officials have disputed. However, the WSPA is expected to increase its campaign this year to turn the farm into a real conservation facility.
The latest revelations in the farm’s own annual report have also done little to help improve the image of the Cayman Turtle Farm. The report showed that the farm is breaching the terms of its permit to discharge waste into the ocean as it has failed to reduce the effluent. Even more damaging is the massive losses still being sustained at the farm -- a bill which is being picked up by the Caymanian tax payer.
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