Use of turtle shells after meat removed

| 07/11/2016

What happens to the turtle shells after the Turtle Farm butchers the turtle for meat?

Auntie’s answer: I went to the source for this one, asking the Cayman Turtle Centre (the name was changed from Turtle Farm this past September) to respond to your question, and I received a very detailed explanation of the procedure from the managing director, Tim Adam.

First of all, once the captive-raised green turtles are processed for meat under the separate Cayman Turtle Products, there are two options for the whole carapaces, or turtle shells. “A small percentage of carapaces, which are particularly attractive and unblemished, are saved for processing into polished whole turtle shells,” Mr Adam explained.

Without going into too much detail, the complete carapace, including all the bits that result in the shaded brown pattern, is first stored in a deep freezer, after which it is cured chemically for about a fortnight to ensure the integrity of the piece remains strong.

Once that is finished, Mr Adam said, next comes “the process to eventually create a beautiful decorative piece that is marked with special identifying marks so that the ownership and authenticity of the item, certified as coming from a captive-bred source, can be verified by authorities if and when such verification might be necessary at any point in the future”.

Negotiations are underway right now with an artisan to cure, clean, polish and mark the carapace for eventual sale at the Turtle Centre gift shop.

There is a caveat, however, as “those sales are made under strict condition that the shells will remain within the territory of the Cayman Islands and are documented as to ownership for that purpose”, Mr Adam pointed out.

Now for option two. The rest of the shells are destroyed on site and then transported for burial at the George Town landfill to ensure they are not converted into jewellery or any other product. Otherwise, he said, “there would be many serious implications if someone attempted to take such products across an international border. There are strong international treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna [CITES], which in current circumstances strictly prohibit any such international movement of turtle derivatives unless and until that trade is fully approved and documented by the relevant CITES authorities”.

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Comments (36)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    So where do they sell these fine shells and how much do they cost?

  2. My tradition says:


    I find some of these comments very racist, bigoted and offensive.

    And whilst i agree that everyone has an opinion, i cant help but get feeling that there are some people, and organizations, that are attempting to force their own personal beliefs and agendas down caymanians throats.

    Historically and culturally caymanians have used and consumed turtle products. This has been taken place for years, even before these special interest groups, such as the group that started cities, were even around.

    Now whilst i agree that because its an endangered species and should be protected in the wild, i do not believe there is anything wrong with the turtle farm and its harvesting of this traditional food source.

    In fact as it stands now the turtle farm has increased the amount of wild turtles, through their release project as well as help curb any large scale poaching by the locals.

    In fact if any real conservationist wanted to save these turtles then all they have to do is go to south/central america where there is commercialized poaching occuring.

    Do not attempt to change my culture, as a caymanian, to suit everyone elses. Do not make laws and attempt to ran them down my throat. Thats edging on a fight

    • MM says:

      We should have been arguing that before electing these same politicians over and over who we have given permission to sell us out by ticking the box next to their name. But I agree with you, the entire face of this country has been changing for decades and with every change comes the need and the urge for Caymanians to stop being Caymanians so that we can “fit in”.

      What people forget is that there was a turtle canning facility here in Cayman that used to export turtle meat – I wonder where it was being exported to?

      By the sound of these comments I would swear our people are the only “uncivilized” turtle-eaters on the globe. So I would be very interested in knowing where the turtle meat used to be shipped to.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Morally the intent involve in the Cayman slaughter is despicable and incomparable.

    • MM says:

      Tell that to the slaughter houses in the USA that line cows up like they are in Nazi camps.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Who are you people?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Never ceases to amaze that Cayman acts out being an environmentally conscious tourist destination , yet openly kills turtles and advertises as such . At least the CITES convention keeps the turtle products here . The locals also get to have with their stew, one of Tim’s particularly attractive & unblemished shells on their wall . Much better there than to let it swim free in the ocean?

    • Anonymous says:

      Now that you have the full story published and you have these concerns, why don’t you call up CITES and suggest they send down an observer to be there every day.

      Knowing Mr. Adam as I do I am sure he will not object to having his account verified by someone who meets your standards. He may even make them sit down and watch inside the air conditioned, certified and inspected by the agriculture department arbiter where the turtles are harvested, instead of standing outside in the hot sun..

    • Anonymous says:

      I am sure you eat seafood. The seafood industry kills and discards 250,000 wild turtles every year in their nets while putting that delicious seafood on your table that you like to eat.(google it) and Mexico harvests and eats 90,000 per year from the wild.

      Why not go after Mexico or the seafood industry if you really care about wild turtles killed and leave poor little Cayman Turtle Centre alone.
      At least they hatches and raises ALL of the turtles that they harvest and those account for less than 00.4 of one percent of what the seafood industry kills from the wild.

      It is so much easier to pick on the Cayman Turtle Centre while quoting 10 year old statistics.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Well international trade in the shells is banned because the slaughter of endangered animals is barbaric and backwards”

  7. Anonymous says:

    This must continue to be probed. It sounds like there is no agency that supervises destruction of the scutes (worth over $1000/lb in Japan) only Turtle Farm staff using the honor system. This is far and away the most profitable part of the turtle. Senior RCIPS should be on hand to sign off on their complete destruction to comply with CITES just like one would expect in Ivory seizures or what we would hope would happen after a drug burn. But as we all know, there are holes in all of these stories and there are many unofficial international voyages embarking from West Bay. It’s difficult to just blindly trust Mr Adam if he is not inviting people in to document the destruction and disposal. The public, as primary funding source, needs complete transparency and accountability.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi 1:56, I have lived here for a while and I have no idea what a scute is on a turtle. How is it worth so much?

      • Anonymous says:

        The scutes are the plates that make up the turtle shell. ‘Tortoiseshell’ products, like fancy hair combs, were made from marine turtle shells (scutes) back before plastic was invented that could mimic the attractive brown & yellow pattern. In Japan the product is called Bekko and, like tortoiseshell in Europe, was an attractive pre-industrial decorative material. The market for real, as opposed to plastic, tortoiseshell or bekko products still remains strong (if somewhat potential).

        Note that most marine turtles are pan-tropical if not global in distribution so there are hawksbill turtles (the main tortoiseshell producer int he old days) swimming all around Asia, the Pacific, Australia and the Atlantic and Caribbean. (Not the same individual turtles but the same species. The only difference in what was made from its shell was in name and imagination of the different cultures.) Green turtle shells, though they aren’t generally accounted quite as pretty as hawksbills, can be used to make bekko. Indeed the Farm experimented with producing some pretty tortoiseshell pieces in the past. Because they’re farming the turtles its easier for them to get bekko-quality scutes from a green turtle than it was for the old turtle rangers.Plus beauty is int he eye of the beholder, etc., so the old hawksbills for shells / greens for meat harvest dichotomy was probably never absolute anyway. And since harvesting wild turtles is generally restricted around the world (including in Cayman) a source of legal farmed turtle scute supplying a legal bekko trade could be worth a lot of money to the scute and the art producers. (And the middlemen.) Bekko & tortoiseshell was always a valuable product (its why they went to great lengths to maek plastic that looks like tortoiseshell) these days it would come with the added cost/value of being ‘sustainably artisan produced’. Sort of like the difference between the cost/value of milk and ‘organic milk from free range cows’.

        So that’s how a turtle scute can be worth so much money. (potentially)

    • Anonymous says:

      How would anyone be able to ship Cayman turtle shell to Japan without it passing through the USA or another country that is signatory to CITIES?
      Perhaps you think that Jamaica canoes can traverse the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean.
      You should really think before posting sensationalism on CNS.
      How would you even know it sells for $1000/lb (Japan uses Kgs.) in Japan anyway, are you trading in pouched turtle shell?

      • Anonymous says:

        Mexico, Cuba and Honduras (all our close Neighbours) are known contraband shell scute suppliers to Japan’s bekkoo zaiku 鼈甲細工 folk art industry. These are unpleasant facts which can be Googled.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you research (Google) it you will find that Hawksbill scutes sell for an average of US$111.00 per Kg or $50.00 per pound in Mainland China and Japan but mostly in Mainland China.

      Hardly worth the effort to smuggle it half way around the world.

      Ganga from Jamaica brings a much higher price, around US$1,250.00/lb. (Google it) .

      • Anonymous says:

        Reputationally we have much to loose by using the honour system on the destruction of these materials.

        We’ve been written up before as one of the tortoiseshell sources in the International bekko smuggling racket: “Four major exporters, Panama, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and Haiti provided three quarters of Japan’s imports of bekko from the region during this period (Donnelly 1989). Only Cuba and Panama could possibly have exported bekko principally from domestically caught hawksbills, as the others do not have the turtle populations requisite to support these quantities…examples of the re-routing of shell involve Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Vincent. There are relatively few resident hawksbills in the Cayman Islands, a dependent territory of the United Kingdom, yet from 1970 to 1982 the islands were a major supplier of bekko to Japan, exporting the equivalent of 27,590 hawksbills. Although CITES came into force in 1979, it was not until 1984 that this trade to Japan finally ceased. In March 1989, Japanese customs reported a resumption of illegal shipments of bekko from the Cayman Islands. Examination by the authorities in the Cayman Islands revealed that the origin of the shell was Mexico. Furthermore, this shipment travelled through two central American countries and Spain en route to Japan (I. Muchmore, U. K. Management Authority, in litt. to Greenpeace U. K., 8 May 1990).”

        Beauty products are also illegal under CITES if they contain sea turtle oil, like from the oily green sea turtles farmed in the Cayman Islands.

        As the financial sponsor of the activity at the farm, why wouldn’t we, the public, insist on checking this?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Personally feel the practice of eating these turtles should be banned outright though the islands. I mean, the meat isn’t even that good. Mealy and not anywhere near as good as a proper beef steak. Some traditions really need to be let go for very good reasons…

    • Anonymous says:

      Says the almight you.

    • Anonymous says:

      You tried it once nah true? Probably got it chunky as well? Not that appetizing to one’s eye when it’s served that way, with hunts of fins and ting. Get it from Luzs on Friday and then come back to me bout it nah good.

    • Anonymous says:

      thanks turtle meat police and general all around annoying numbnut for your take on the national dish of our island. If you don’t like it don’t eat it for god’s sake.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I hope chicken fighting is illegal..not that that would stop it as we are not good at enforcing laws here.

  10. Chantelle says:

    Is the bigger question not how the Turtle Center slaughters the animals? I would hope there is a recognised humane method that is employed?

    • Anonymous says:

      No. No it’s actually not the bigger question. No one is even talking about that. If you’re so concerned call the frigging turtle farm and ask them. Google it. Ask someone who works there. Otherwise shut up.

  11. Anonymous says:

    they make barbs for chicken fighting from the shells Chicken fighting is a big sport and money maker in cayman islands If you go and watch on any given sunday it is a fully sponsored event with catering music and good times for all including lots of money to be won

    • Anonymous says:

      Cool! Just like in the 1600’s. Something tells me that slavery and gambling are also alive and thriving in the Lawless Caymanas.

      • MM says:

        And pirates too! In fact, we have a day here especially to celebrate them.

    • Anonymous says:

      No they dont.

    • Anonymous says:

      The authorities may also want to check out the illegal yet commonplace dog-fighting rings that take place, particularly in East End. However, given the complete lack of law enforcement that takes place in regards to animal abuse and cruelty, I won’t hold my breath.

      • Anonymous says:

        Film it and put it on you tube.

      • Anonymous says:

        Apparently these are held next door to the chicken fighting ring, yeah? Are the dog fights catered as well. Let me know cause I’m in!

    • Anonymous says:

      Which church?

      • Anonymous says:

        which which church? Someone say something about a church? Go home dude you’re drunk.

    • Anonymous says:

      WTF are you on about? Where does this take place because apparently I have missed out on almost 50 years of fun and food (catered, no less…hmmm…ritzy!) and lots of illegal gambling money! Damn it all!