First established in 1968 in the West Bay district of Grand Cayman to breed endangered green sea turtles for commercial purposes without depleting the wild population, the Cayman Turtle Centre is now also a research and conservation facility. As the only facility of its kind in the world, it was also the first facility to successfully breed the endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtle in captivity. Today, it is the largest land-based tourist attraction in the Cayman Islands, at 23 acres, welcoming over 500,000 annual visitors. It also features birds, caiman, and other creatures in addition to turtles.
Historically, Christopher Columbus first came across the Cayman Islands in 1503. He originally referred to the islands as “Las Tortugas” due to the abundance of green sea turtles found there. Later, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands would become a stopping point for ships sailing the Caribbean in need of food. The turtles caught here were taken aboard the ships and kept alive as a source of fresh meat. However, by the 19th century with the turtle population around the islands nearly depleted, trade centered on the green sea turtle eventually shifted to the coast of Nicaragua, that is, until the Cayman Turtle Centre opened. By the mid-1970s, the facility housed nearly 100,000 farmed turtles.
Unfortunately, in 2001 Hurricane Michelle inundated the facility, washing turtles of all sizes from hatchlings to 600 pound adults out to sea and 75% of the breeding turtles were lost.
- Visited: Feb 2020