Cayman Turtle Conservation and Education Centre Ltd.
(trading as Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter)
Interview with : COO Ms Peggy Hamilton, and with our Marketing Manager Ms India Narcisse
Tell us about Cayman Turtle Center.
“Every island has its own story. Sea currents bring each island its own unique mix of people and animals and plants, and as time goes on, that story gets more interesting. The very first inhabitants of the Cayman Islands were turtles, not people. When Christopher Columbus sailed past them in 1503, he called them Los Tortugas meaning The Turtles, because turtles seemed to be everywhere. So that when humans came they knew that in order to survive, they had to live in harmony with the beautiful world that they found around them, becoming nature’s unofficial guardians.
Then something went wrong. The huge colonies of turtles, just like the herds of Buffalo which roamed the plains of North America, started disappearing. Without understanding the natural world, modern man had stepped in to take all he wanted from nature, without stopping to wonder if he should also give something back. The Buffalo were saved through a deliberate effort to farm them, because, really, farmed animals never become extinct. Next it was the turtles’ turn.
When Mariculture Ltd – the original name for the Turtle Centre – began in 1968, it was quickly realised that farming turtles would conserve them in two ways: by providing an alternative source of turtle meat it would reduce the numbers being taken from the wild. Also, turtles bred in the new facility could be released from time to time into the sea. It was a bold move – there was no other place like it in the world. But, little by little, this dual approach to conservation has been shown to work. Recent studies show that many released turtles are swimming ‘back home’ to the Cayman Islands – one study in particular showed that more than 50 percent of the genetic material from nesting turtles is attributable to turtles released from the Centre. Numbers of nesting females have risen by over four hundred percent from the figures collected in the 1999. So far, 32,000 turtles bred at the Centre have been released into the sea.
After Hurricane Ivan destroyed both people’s and animals’ homes, the Centre stepped in by providing a safe place for breeding endangered White Crown Pigeons as well as both the Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac Parrots - two species only be found in the Cayman Islands. Much has been learned about breeding wild birds for later release, and the Centre’s Caribbean Aviary distinguished itself by recently becoming the only place on record to hatch three Cayman Parrot chicks.
But CTC’s biggest impact by far is on the people who share in Cayman’s history by encountering wildlife for themselves. These people – approaching a third of a million a year –go away changed by their experience of holding a little turtle, snorkeling alongside beautiful turtles and fish in the Saltwater Lagoon, or hand-feeding a bird in the Caribbean Aviary. Each of these people, the Centre believes, will be more likely to fight for the natural world whenever they get a chance, and so avoid the mistakes of the past”
What role does your company play in tourism?
Conservation of sea turtles has been at the heart of what we do at Cayman Turtle Centre (CTC) since aquaculture began here fifty years ago. Conservation also means education – so that more people will care about the environment and take steps to respect and protect it, and research too, so that by finding out about these animals we can better protect them and so that we can share that new knowledge with conservation experts around the world. So these three very important aspects: conservation, education and research are truly our core purpose and mission at Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter, which we share with every visitor that visits the #1 Land-Based Attraction of the Cayman Islands.
Education however is much more than learning facts. At its very best it is a life-changing encounter – a transformation through discovering amazing wildlife face-to-face in-person, and that is what we give to every person that visits CTC.
What are your future plans for Cayman Turtle Centre?
Some recent and immediate future initiatives that Cayman Turtle Centre is pursuing are:
Head started turtle releases (“public” releases at beachfront properties, private releases available for guests’ special occasions, and private releases of satellite-tracked turtles will be available during the latter part of 2018)
Captive-bred turtle egg translocations and nest implantations on beaches in the wild (i.e. putting farm-bred turtle eggs in nests we dig on the beach in front of tourist accommodation properties)
Night-time nest emergences (i.e. when the hatchlings from those implanted nests crawl out of the sand into the sea), an unforgettable experience for guests of all ages
Our campaign to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean; there are several facets to this initiative, such as our #3PlasticsADay
For the full positive potential of each of these to be realized, we need tourist accommodation properties and restaurants that cater to tourists to “partner” with Cayman Turtle Centre in publicizing these unique “turtle tourism” events to their guests, and hosting these events at their properties.
Those first three initiatives attract visitors to unforgettable experiences that can only be done in the Cayman Islands to transform visitors of all ages into lovers of the oceans by falling in love with a charismatic “ambassador animal” – the sea turtle. The last one transforms every visitor that engages in it, and every person employed in our tourism industry that engages in it, and every resident inspired by it, to become a champion in a very important campaign to save our seas and the amazing creatures that live in them.