November 26, 2020

Tourists handling captive sea turtles face health risks [from WSPA]

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Turtle handlingTourists encountering captive sea turtles while on holiday face health risks, according to new research published this week by the London-based Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

While interacting with wild sea turtles in their natural habitat is quite safe from a human health point of view, the paper demonstrates that contact with wild-caught or captive-bred sea turtles can expose tourists to toxic contaminants and zoonotic pathogens that can jump from animals to people.

Although symptoms from these bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites do not always show themselves immediately and can be mistaken for gastrointestinal disorders or flu, seriously affected people can suffer from septicemia, pneumonia, meningitis or acute renal failure. The biggest bacterial culprits are E.Coli and Salmonella, although there are some lower infection threats from viruses such as Vibrio. Both of these parasites have been detected in water from the touch pools at the Cayman Turtle Farm, (CTF) which offers vacation experiences to pick up sea turtles from confined pools and eat the turtle meat raised at the facility.

The paper included a case study from this farm in Grand Cayman, which is the only facility in the world to rear sea-turtles for meat. The CTF is a popular tourist destination for thousands of tourists who pour off the cruise ships onto the island every day.

The intensive and cramped conditions in which the farm operates – in both the production and tourist areas – can serve to concentrate these pathogens and increase risk to those people visiting the CTF.

Said Clifford Warwick, lead author of the peer-reviewed report, “the subsequent distribution of visitors exposed to turtle farm conditions may also involve opportunities for further dissemination of contaminants into established tourist hubs, including cruise ships and airline carriers.”

After hearing concerning reports over the level of care of some 9,000 endangered green sea turtles at CTF, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) ran an investigation and produced a scientific assessment of the Farm last year.

The global animal welfare charity has been attempting to work with the facility to raise awareness of sea turtle welfare and to raise the standards of care, which will ultimately mean a transition away from the intensive commercial production of the sea turtles – a highly endangered species. Adds Dr. Neil D’Cruze, WSPA Wildlife Campaign Lead, “WSPA is not surprised to hear that the handling of captive green sea turtles poses a potential threat to the visiting public. This independent, peer-reviewed scientific paper confirms our suspicions and shows that the CTF’s operations are inherently flawed.”

The report’s authors also suggest that low awareness of the health risks from handling sea turtles make it difficult to track the source of the pathogens, as cruise line passengers will often attribute their illness to an alternate cause. Adds Dr D’Cruze, “We hope that the Cayman Turtle Farm will recognize that the only real way to completely remove the human health threat will be to end the ‘unique wildlife encounter, and will take steps to immediately improve the lives of the turtles in their care.”

Tourists face health risks from contact with captive sea turtles

LA, CA (05 February 2013). Tourists coming into contact with sea turtles at holiday attractions face a risk of health problems, according to research published today by JRSM Short Reports. Encountering free-living sea turtles in nature is quite safe, but contact with wild-caught and captive-housed sea turtles, typically through handling turtles in confined pools or through consuming turtle products, carries the risk of exposure to toxic contaminants and to zoonotic (animal to human) pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Symptoms, which may take some time to emerge, can resemble gastrointestinal disorders or flu but people more severely affected can suffer septicaemia, pneumonia, meningitis and acute renal failure.

The review included a case study of the Cayman Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman, which between 2007 and 2011 attracted approximately 1.2 million visitors. CTF sells farmed turtle meat to the public and local restaurants. One of the researchers, Clifford Warwick of the Emergent Disease Foundation, said: “The subsequent distribution of visitors exposed to turtle farm conditions may also involve opportunities for further dissemination of contaminants into established tourist hubs including cruise ship and airline carriers.”

Warwick added that awareness of potential threats may be modest among health-care professionals and low among the public. “To prevent and control the spreading of sea turtle-related disease, greater awareness is needed among health-care professionals regarding potential pathogens and toxic contaminants from sea turtles, as well as key signs and symptoms of typical illnesses.”

The study was funded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Warwick said: “Significantly, the captive farming of turtles arguably increases the threat to health, in particular from bacteria, due to the practice of housing many turtles in a relatively confined space and under intensive conditions.”

Warwick concluded: “People should avoid food derived from sea turtles and perhaps also other relatively long-lived species regardless of their role in the food chain as all these animals potentially have more time in which to accumulate hazardous organisms and toxins and present an increased risk of animal-linked human pathology.”

See separate article mentioned above by Clifford Warwick published in today’s iNews Cayman “Health implications associated with exposure to farmed and wild sea turtles” and the Cayman Turtle Farm’s (CTF) reply “CTF counters latest WSPA smear tactic: Farm does not pose risk to human health”



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