Socioeconomic aspects of turtle conservation in the Cayman Islands

DOE Cayman IslandsIn April 2014, the Department of Environment was awarded a Darwin Plus grant entitled “Socioeconomic aspects of turtle conservation in the Cayman Islands,” funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The aim of the project was to provide robust scientific data on the role of the Cayman Turtle Farm in wild turtle conservation. The project, which was granted to the DoE in collaboration with University of Exeter (UoE), aimed to determine the cultural importance, current prevalence, and socioeconomic of turtle consumption through a comprehensive socioeconomic survey.

To begin the study, a researcher from UoE conducted in-depth interviews with stakeholders to identify key questions regarding turtle meat in the Cayman Islands. A socio-economic survey tool was then developed and key stakeholders were invited to comment on the resulting survey instrument. Interviews then targeted 597 randomly selected resident households (approximately 100 in each geographical district of the Cayman Islands) and included sections about turtle meat consumption and purchase, consumer preferences, participation in illegal behaviours related to sea turtles (i.e. buying turtle meat harvested from the wild and eating turtle eggs), and socio-demographic information. Additional surveys of 174 high school students (to further explore age effects), 117 international cruise ship tourists, 87 stay-over international tourists and 39 restaurants (to further investigate demand) were also successfully completed. Additionally, to investigate turtle meat supply and pricing we entered and analysed data over 3,700 sale receipts that were made available by CTF.

In all, nearly 1,000 interviews with households, high school students, international tourists, and restaurants were used to establish cultural and age effects in the consumption of turtle meat and the influence of price and availability of farmed turtle meat, preference for farmed or wild product, demand, and environmental awareness in incentivising or reducing take of wild turtles.

To determine Cayman Islands marine turtle population size (and thus assess vulnerability to illegal take) and to identify the contribution of farm-released turtles to the wild population, a comprehensive night-time tagging study was carried out in 2014 and 2015. Turtle nesting in the Cayman Islands has increased in recent years (from less than 30 nests in 1998 to more than 400 nests in 2015). However, illegal take may threaten population survival and the number of females in the nesting population was unknown as each turtle can lay more than one nest per season. Between 1980 and 2016, almost 32,000 turtles were released from the Cayman Turtle Farm, approximately 80% of these marked with tags or living tags (the latter of which are lifelong marks on the shell). Thus, some turtles released from the Farm can be identified through tags documented during night surveys carried out in this project. Additionally, tissue samples were collected from farm turtles, wild nesting females and wild hatched nests for genetic analysis to refine estimates of farm contribution to wild stocks.

By using both social and ecological methods, our aim was to conserve a national cultural icon by: 1) assessing the role of the Cayman Turtle Farm in supply and demand for turtle meat, 2) assessing illegal take and how this may be influenced by supply and demand, 3) establishing management targets to reduce illegal take, and 4) evaluating the contribution of the farm to wild stocks.

The Cayman key findings report provides scientific information for each of the main questions listed by stakeholders in our initial surveys. The questions were categorized into the following five encompassing themes that we use to group them in this document: demand by residents; restaurants and tourists; turtle meat sales; illegal turtle meat; and management preferences. A leaflet provides an overview of results.

   The Cayman key findings report


Results have been used to develop a draft Turtle Conservation Plan and we will soon be welcoming public feedback on the plan. First, the draft plan will be approved for public consultation by the National Conservation Council and the consultation will take place for at least 28 days after the second written notice of publication of the draft. After the National Conservation Council considers and incorporates public feedback, the plan will be submitted to Cabinet and elected representatives will have 60 days in which to request amendments or vote the plan into law.

Please do not hesitate to contact DoE with any questions about the project (email us or call us at 949-8469).