Did you know that Turtle Stew is the National dish of Grand Cayman? Well, I knew this tidbit before I visited. And though I would classify myself as a foodie, I decided to pass on sampling this local delicacy.
It may just be delicious, but I perfer to have an up-close-and-personal encounter with a live turtle swimming ’round a touch pool as opposed to in my soup bowl.
So, I of course jumped at the chance to visit the Turtle Farm on Boatswain’s Beach on Grand Cayman.
Unfortunately, the day I visited was cloudy and nasty and by afternoon, most of the tour guides had gone home for the day. But there was one guide, who is also in charge of feeding the turtles, that was nice enough to show me around. And we practically had the place to ourselves.
The Turtle Farm began in 1968 as a way to domesticate Green Sea Turtles. Currently there are 4 species of Sea Turtle on the farm; Green, Kemp’s Ridley, Loggerheads and Hawksbills, totaling over 7,000.
The Kemp’s Ridley species is actually the rarest, most endangered turtle. They are known only to breed in the Gulf of Mexico, but a few were found and brought to the farm. Through breeding, those few have now grown to 40.
All of the turtles are held in separate touch tanks, grouped together by age and species. I got to hold a Green Turtle in the youngest group they had on hand, which were yearlings. To pick one up, hold it by grasping firmly under the flippers, shell facing in, toward your body. He may start flappin’ his flippers, but a few gentle strokes under his chin will quickly soothe him.
The farm helps to conserve the Green Turtle by releasing yearlings into the wild annually, about 20 of them each year. The last turtle release happened this past November. About 31,000 turtles have been released to date.
They also supply turtle meat to meet local demand. My guide told me that currently it’s about 10% of the population. This reduces hunting the turtles found in the wild.
Here are some other random things I learned about turtles:
* You can tell the gender of a turtle – the males have much longer tails than the females.
* The visible white marks on the back of a turtle’s neck are scars, scrapes and bites that are caused by normal turtle behavior, especially during breeding.
* Mature breeding turtles can weigh between 350 – 500 pounds. The biggest turtle on the farm is a female named “Sparky” , and she weighs in at a whopping 575 pounds!
* Female turtles can lay between 50 and 100 eggs at a time, up to 10 times in a season.
* A turtle can hold its breath for 20 minutes while swimming and up to 12 hours while sleeping.
* The geometric-shaped plates on the back of a turtle’s shell are called scutes.
Boatswain’s Beach isn’t just a Turtle Farm. There is something for everyone. There is a colorful bird aviary, a predator reef tank with sharks, eels and barracuda, Cayman Street, two lagoons, a restaurant, a gift shop, a nature trail and an education center. And there are scheduled feedings in both the touch and predator tanks.
And speaking of feedings. The turtle feeding was a downright riot. Scoops of special turtle kibble, that resemble dog food, are tossed into the touch tanks. Tons of turtles swim like lightning (well, for a turtle!) and start gulping it up.
In the larger tank, one particular turtle, affectionately called Arnold Schwarzenegger, pushed himself up and out of the water with his flippers to eat right out of the scoop!
And turtle kibble is apparently a sandpiper’s delicacy also. The birds hover around during feeding time, and ride atop the back of a turtle, like a surfer rides a board, and if the turtle happens to resurface with a piece of kibble on its back…it’s the sandpiper’s lucky day!
A trip to Boatswain’s Beach and all it has to offer costs $45 or you can just visit the Turtle Farm for $30. If you book online you can save 20%.
And though I had a fabulous time and learned so much about turtles, there was one thing missing from my visit. The hatchlings. It just wasn’t the right time of year to see the babies. Bummer.
For that you need to visit between May and October.
Even if you can’t visit, you can still personally sponsor a Turtle Release. Send an email to email@example.com for information.
*I visited the Turtle Farm as part of the Blog Paradise trip that was sponsored by Marriott Resorts, which means my admission to the Turtle Farm was covered.