It is Cayman's largest land-based attraction and a popular excursion for cruise passengers, but the Cayman Turtle Farm (CTF) has become embroiled in an animal cruelty scandal that could threaten its future.
The farm offers tourists the chance to learn more about the endangered green turtle as well as the loggerhead turtle, crocodiles and Caribbean wildlife in general. But it also has a breeding programme, supplying turtles for human consumption.
Now undercover filming by animal rights campaigners has alleged that the turtles bred for their meat are kept in inhumane conditions, suffer illness and injury and that tourists could be in danger of illness from handling the animals.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) unveiled a catalogue of failures when they went undercover at the attraction.
Water tests revealed the presence of salmonella and E. coli, both of which can cause severe food poisoning symptoms and would be very troublesome in particular if they affected a passenger on a cruise ship.
Traces of the bacteria Vibrio, which causes septicaemia and can be fatal, were also found in the water.
Hard-hitting film footage showing the alleged poor conditions threatens what is one of Grand Cayman's most important visitor attractions and raises questions about cruise companies and tour operators who offer trips to the 'conservationist' visitor attraction.
There are 500,000 visitors to the farm every year, including land-based tourists and Carnival, Princess, Norwegian and Disney cruise passengers, who are allowed to swim with the turtles and pick them up to pose for photo opportunities.
There is also a restaurant on the site serving 'turtle steaks'.
The experience is branded as 'unique' and the WSPA argues that this is because other facilities wouldn't allow posing with the animals in the same way as it distresses the turtles and exposes humans to diseases as well.
Speaking to MailOnline Travel, Dr Neil D'Cruz, a scientist and wildlife campaigner at WSPA, said the attraction was akin to 'going to Disney World then eating Mickey Mouse'.
He said the WSPA is keen to work with the farm to help it stop its controversial breeding programme and dedicate itself completely to rehabilitation, research and conservation - something which the farm is already involved in at some level.
Dr D'Cruz argues that although the CTF promotes itself as a conservation organisation, of the 35,000 turtles it has released into the wild since 1968, only 11 have been proven to have returned to nest on the island - a total of 0.03 per cent.
Nobody knows the reason for this, but releasing fewer turtles with more preparation and better tracking systems would improve the figure.
Since the WSPA's first report, the farm has added a hand-washing station and signs warning tourists of the dangers of touching the turtles.
However it vigorously disputes the allegations made by the campaigners and accuses the organisation of deliberately undermining its revenue base while offering to help.
For its part, the WSPA said it was trying to work with the farm out of the public eye, but felt it had no other option but to release its footage when 300 turtles died due to the breakdown of a water pump last July.
The dispute between the turtle farm and the WSPA has become a cause celebre, with Sir Paul McCartney backing the animal rights organisation and Sir Richard Branson saying that he is awaiting the farm's independent review into animal living conditions on January 31 with interest.
The WSPA is also putting pressure on cruise companies and has released the findings of a passenger survey taken between 2010 and 2012, in which - despite the presence of the restaurant at the farm - 89 per cent of cruise passengers said they were not made aware that the CTF breeds turtles for human consumption.
A further 85 per cent said they would not have handled the turtles if they had known it distressed them and a further 69 per cent said that as a result of these factors they thought cruise lines should stop promoting the farm.
By Sarah Gordon