Despite Finding Nemo’s interpretation of sea turtles as carefree and high as a kite, these guys have it pretty rough. From taking decades to reach sexual maturity to having a majority of their eggs devoured by predators, a sea turtle’s existence amounts to nothing but hard knocks from the nest to the grave, though they’re above complaining about it. But as if that wasn’t enough, the cruel whim of destiny sometimes dictates that sea turtles end up in sleazy aquariums so filthy that they might as well be swimming in a tank of toilet water. Such was the case when Dr. Phillip Arena — a lecturer with a PhD in reptile biology at the Student Learning Centre at Murdoch’s Peel — and a team of researchers from the U.K.’s Emergent Disease Foundation investigated evidence of the shabby conditions at the Cayman Islands’ Cayman Turtle Farm that threatened the welfare of its shelled residents.
Dr. Arena and his team made this unsettling discovery when the World Society for the Protection of Animals provided them with a series of images and footage presenting the farm’s unsanitary conditions and the staff’s horrendous negligence. Animal welfare infractions included overcrowding, malnourishment, mistreatment at the hands of visitors, and—in extreme cases—instances of cannibalism among the captive turtles. In 1968, the Cayman Turtle Farm was once a supplier of fresh turtle meat, but local consumer taste for the product has waned considerably over the years, hence the shift in focus to a cheap tourist attraction.
In their defense, the farm claims that some of the sea turtles are released into the wild, but Dr. Arena argues that these numbers are overestimated and their efforts are in actuality detrimental since the sickened turtles they release into the wild can act as disease vectors with the potential to infect healthy populations. On these shocking developments, Dr. Arena stated:
It’s a sad fact that reptiles are able to withstand such poor conditions. To the inexperienced handler/owner, they often show very few signs of stress and disease until it is too late. Furthermore, a second part of our investigation examined the potential impact on public health due to contact with diseased animals, unclean water and the consumption of poor quality turtle meat.
The research Dr. Arena gathered on the welfare of the turtles, and the potential risks posed to the farm’s staff and regular visitors, was the foundation of the WSPA’s advocacy to have the Cayman Turtle Farm terminated and be converted into an education center that promotes the conservation of sea turtles. Thousands have already signed a petition in support of this agenda, but the Cayman Islands government seems reluctant to budge on the issue. At this point, we can only hope that a brave soul tosses some canisters of mutagen into the tanks, giving the sea turtles a fighting chance, as it’s frankly hard to see what further harm a tube of ooze could do, really.
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