29 December 2009

Happy Blue Year - A Review and Preview

This past year has been a time of transition and growth for SEE Turtles. We started the year moving from Ocean Conservancy to work with the great group of folks at The Ocean Foundation.

In 2009, SEE Turtles:
Despite the down economy, which dramatically reduced tourism, we helped connect 60 travelers to our partners in Costa Rica, Baja, and Trinidad. These travelers generated more than $13,000 for local communities and almost $10,000 for conservation efforts. Our grand total to date is now $62,500 generated, split between $35,500 for conservation and $27,000 for communities! In 2009, 22 volunteers completed more than 200 shifts, doing the dirty work necessary for these projects to succeed.

While we are proud of these results, we know a lot more needs to be done to protect sea turtles in these sites. SEE Turtles is gearing up for a big 2010, where we expect to more than double the number of people going to sites and the amount of money generated. Our plans for 2010 include new turtle sites, new species (starting with other ocean creatures), and more.

SEE Turtles succeeds with help from people like you. To make a tax-deductible online donation, please click here and be sure to check the box titled "SEEtheWILD" (our parent project).

Happy New Year and thanks for your support! SEE you in 2010.

22 December 2009

Of Sea Turtles & Selfish Giving

Fans of NPR may have caught an interesting story on "Selfish Giving" this morning. In this season of giving, the story explores whether giving that is not purely unselfish is moral. The story focuses heavily on cause marketing, where companies give to charity in order to sell more products, and suggests that giving and volunteering are the latest fad. But at the end, referring to students padding their college applications, the story asks "Is the high school senior who is volunteering in Costa Rica really making a difference in the life of sea turtles?"

In this economy, with non-profits cutting staff and services, we think that any reason that encourages people or companies to support social causes is a good one. SEE Turtles wouldn't exist without the support of socially conscious companies like Endangered Species Chocolate and Nature's Path, and those companies are successful because their customers want to support environmentally-minded businesses. Our project is based on the premise that many travelers want to do good while having fun and prefer operators who leave a positive impact on the locations where they send people.

From personal experience, I first went to volunteer with sea turtles in Costa Rica after graduating from college as a way to gain experience in the conservation field and build my resume. I wanted to help both the turtles and my career prospects and accomplished both. Yes, volunteering can help a young person get a job or into college. But it also helps small conservation groups cover long stretches of nesting beaches and brings in critical income to coastal communities. If helping sea turtles becomes a fashionable thing, its certainly better than the latest smart phone...

15 December 2009

Turtle Watching Inspires Young Philanthropy

Jeremie Crystal was just six years old when he saw his first turtle in Grande Riviere, Trinidad. He witnessed a giant leatherback, which he nicknamed "Nest-Quick." He also got to see tiny leatherback hatchlings on this incredible beach, one of the world's most important for this species. This memory has stuck with him for the past seven years.

Recently in school, Jeremy learned about how fishing gear can entangle and kill sea turtles. He decided then to take a collection at his Bar Mitzvah to help solve this problem. This past weekend, his efforts resulted in $1,000 for sea turtle conservation efforts! This donation will go towards reducing accidental capture in fishing gear in Baja California Mexico, which has one of the highest rates in the world of turtle capture and mortality.

Thanks to Jeremy, you are a wonderful example of the difference one person can make in protecting endangered species and living proof that ocean wildlife viewing makes people green! We hope you can join us for a trip to see your donation in action one of these days.

-Brad Nahill

08 December 2009

Inspiring Conservation Through Art

Can murals save sea turtles? This question was asked by graduate student Alyssa Irizarry, who worked with the School for Field Studies (SFS) to determine the effect of numerous paintings of ocean wildlife around the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico. Everywhere you go in Baja, from small coastal towns like Lopez Mateos to larger cities like La Paz, you see these wonderful paintings depicting whales, sea turtles, and other creatures.

Many of these murals were created as part of a Rare Pride campaign that the Grupo Tortuguero ran. Rare (an international conservation group that I used to work with) learned how important social marketing can be in changing attitudes toward nature and their campaigns utilize a combination of murals, costumes, puppets and more. Other murals in the region were created by the famous Wyland, who has made a career out of painting huge murals to help humans feel a stronger connection to the sea.

Alyssa's research was illuminating. According to SFS, she found that the murals reinforce messages delivered to local students and adults through environmental education campaigns. While the murals alone don't necessary inspire conservation, but she says that, "sea turtle murals can provide the motivation for community discussion and participation in turtle conservation."

To see the murals yourself (and the live sea turtles, too), check out our upcoming trips page.

-Brad Nahill

03 December 2009

Protecting Turtles and Helping Communities

Anyone who reads this blog knows how we feel about plastic. Leatherbacks and other turtles often confuse plastic bags for jellyfish, getting caught in their throats. Plastic litter covers nesting beaches around the world (see photo at right).

Now, however, we are excited to be able to help protect turtles
and residents near turtle sites by selling plastic. Recycled plastic handbags, that is. These bags are made from shopping bags by cooperatives of women in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. Each bag is made from up to 80 plastic bags, helping get them out of turtle habitat while generating income for conservation efforts and women in low-income communities.
This fantastic project (called Weaving for Nature) is run by our partners at WIDECAST Latin America. To date, they have recycled more than 12,000 bags into new products.

These bags are now available through World of Good. Buy one for yourself or as a unique holiday gift! The bags range from $20 - 25 and coin purses for $10.

23 November 2009

Inspirational Talk by SEE Turtles co-founder Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

Last month, J. addressed a group of the world's leading adventure travel operators at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Quebec, Canada. Watch his inspiration message about loving and saving the wild here:

17 November 2009

Green Festival Goodies

Just back from the San Francisco Green Festival, billed as the country's largest sustainability event. The show was packed for most of the three days and attendees were bombarded with great speakers, delicious food, and an overwhelming number of green products to choose from.

Helping us out at this exhausting event were friends Barb Andrews of the California Academy of Sciences, David McGuire of Sea Stewards, and Max Davis. Lots of interest in helping sea turtles by San Franciscans, including the mayor himself, Gavin Newsom (pictured with David and Barbara holding a loggerhead skull).

Our favorite booths there included:
-Snow Leopard Trust: Check these folks out for great holiday gifts produced by ranchers who help protect these gorgeous creatures. I picked up a bunch of ornaments for our tree.
-Sustainable Harvest International: These great folks support efforts by farmers in Central America to grow more sustainably. They have great eco-trips too through their Smaller World program.
-Earthwatch: One of our favorite partners. Check out their turtle trips on our site.
-Kid Command: Fun and educational video games for kids. Much better than Wi if the kids are stuck inside.
-MamaShaman: Very creative shoes made from molas of the Kuna people in Panama. Fair trade and beautiful!

13 November 2009

Sea Turtle Monitoring and Sea Kayak Expedition, Nov 3-10

A guest post from Melissa Gaskill, who joined a recent turtle research trip to Baja California, organized by Baja Expeditions:

A steep shell beach barely wide enough for a row of tents served as base camp for the most recent SEE Turtles expedition in Bahia Magdalena, near Puerto San Carlos on the Pacific coast of Baja California. Our group included ten tourists, two guides, two cooks, and four pangueros, or boat drivers. Since 2000, local fishermen and conservationists have monitored the sea turtle population here. Once a month, they set nets, check them every two hours, and measure, weigh and tag any turtles caught, then return them to the water. This data measures the effectiveness of efforts to help the endangered animals.

Allowing tourists to participate hands-on in the monitoring not only spreads the word about these efforts, it also provides important financial support.

We first spent three days across the peninsula, at the Baja Expeditions eco-camp on Isla Espiritu Santo, an uninhabited island rising from sky blue Gulf of California waters. There, we snorkeled with sea lions, swam over a shallow reef, hiked a mountain slope bristling with towering cardon, and kayaked from one pristine beach to another, stopping at a mangrove-lined cove along the way. After a night in La Paz, we made a three-hour van ride to San Carlos to board one of Baja’s signature blue-and-white pangas and cross the bay to camp.

Our first order of business: placing the wide-weave, shallow nets across the path of the tide. Julio Solis, a San Carlos panguero (boat driver) who helped establish Magdalena Baykeeper, then pulled out a yellow pad and marked off two-hour shifts from 6 PM that day through 4 PM the next. After he assigned two crew members in each slot, we got our turn to sign up. I chose 8 PM and 4 AM. Neither of those shifts netted a turtle, but the black water reflected bright stars, and I enjoyed helping to check the net by pulling it across the boat, something these men do with practiced ease.

During the day in between shifts, we took outings, one to an isthmus of sand dunes, which we cross to a wide, seemingly endless beach on the Pacific Ocean, and another threading through mangrove channels looking for birds.

In the end, we snagged three turtles, two of them without tags, meaning they haven’t been captured before. The group helped with the data collection and keeping the turtles wet and calm (covering their eyes seems to do the trick). When released, the animals swim away with impressive speed.

Our last day, we wandered the bay, stopping to watch locals fishing with handlines, checking crab traps, and shrimping using an environmentally-friendly slow trawl that skirts but doesn’t drag the bottom. (The previous night, I enjoyed a delicious meal of shrimp caught this way, my first in a long time since giving up shrimp for ecological reasons.) After lunch on a secluded beach in the mangroves, we started the long journey home, all of us, I’m sure, changed by our experience.

The crew from our camp belong to a group of 16 men and women, Cooperativo Eco-Tortuguero de San Carlos, formed to offer this conservation tourism experience. In addition to financing the monthly monitoring, the outings provide an alternative to typical tourism development (think Cancun or Los Cabos), creating dignified work that keeps people in their communities. While many outfitters and destinations claim the ecotourism label, this trip is the real deal.

11 November 2009

Ocean Wildlife Viewing makes people green

Over the years I've seen up close the way sea turtle watching can truly change behavior, from kids to adults, fishermen to artists, even Michael J. Fox changed his life after turtle watching in the US Virgin Islands (see our blog post of May 8, 2009 for more).

New research from the University of Queensland (Australia) suggests that watching ocean wildlife causes people to become more green (as in environmentally-friendly though may pertain to people with sea sickness as well). Research fellow Dr. Jan Packer interviews visitors to places like the sea turtle nesting beach at Mon Repos or whale watching at Hervey Bay (both in Australia). She reports that seven percent of these people make changes in their daily lives to reduce their environmental impact four months later.

One of our top goals is to not only inspire these changes in everyone that goes turtle watching, but to provide concrete ways that people can take when they get home. One participant who just returned from a turtle trip to Baja this week, Melissa from Texas, reported that two of her newfound friends from the trip were inquiring into how their shrimp was caught at local restaurants and educating the waiter and restaurant owner on the problems of shrimp trawling. When they weren't assured that the shrimp was caught sustainably, they chose something else.

Visit SEE Turtles for ways to become inspired and find best practices for turtle watching.

28 October 2009

Tour Operators Unite to Protect Key Nesting Beach

Ten leading ecotourism operators are supporting efforts by conservationists to protect Las Baulas National Marine Park in Costa Rica. Las Baulas, near the coastal town of Tamarindo, is the most important leatherback sea turtle nesting beach on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Developers in the region are supporting an effort to downgrade the park's status from a National Park to a Wildlife Refuge, which would open up areas of the park to development and threaten one of the last remaining nesting beaches for this species along the Pacific.

Pacific leatherback turtles are one of the most endangered populations of sea turtles worldwide, with a 90% drop in nesting numbers over the past two decades.
While entanglement in fishing gear is the primary reason these turtles are dying, loss of nesting habitat is a major threat. Developers and conservationists in this region have long been at odds over hotels being built too close to the nesting beach; increased coastal development in this area would further threaten these beleaguered turtles. This development would also threaten an important turtle watching industry that brings people to this area to witness these giant reptiles lay their eggs.

SEE Turtles, working in partnership with Pretoma and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, has gained the support of 10 leading ecotourism operators (list below), who together represent thousands of visitors to the country and millions in spending. These forward thinking operators know that their business depends on protecting wildlife, travelers want to know their trips are helping to protect nature, not destroy it.

My first experience working with sea turtles was ten years ago on Playa Langosta, part of the national park. I witnessed first-hand how large hotels can affect nesting beaches, camping next to the Barcelo Langosta Resort as it was being built. The hotel destroyed mangroves, lit up the nesting beach, and brought people who trample the beach with no idea of its importance. If this change is allowed to take place, Las Baulas is destined for more of this kind of unsustainable tourism, which damages wildlife while providing minimal benefits for local communities.

To learn more about this situation, read the ezine "Voice of the Leatherback Turtle" on NatureAir's blog.

To express your support to maintain the protections of Las Baulas, click here.

Here's the full list of tour operators and travel non-profits who signed on:

15 October 2009

Blog Action Day

We at SEE Turtles can't possibly pass up participating in the first annual Blog Action Day, this year focused on climate change. Regular readers of this blog (both of you) have probably noticed that its a subject we've been focused on lately. There's a good reason for that, as sea turtles are one of the most affected creatures by global warming. They are even nominated for National Wildlife Federation's new face of global warming. Here's an interesting National Geographic article about new measures conservationists are taking to adapt, with a quote from our advisory board member Carlos Drews of WWF Latin America.

I've already plugged 350.org's International Day of Action on October 24th. Use the link to find an action near you. An innovative new campaign is called tcktcktck (as in a ticking clock) to pressure for a strong climate treaty. Are you a young person who wants to speak out? Try Kids Vs Global Warming. Finally, with reports that oil companies are convincing more people to call their representatives against climate legislation, make sure to let your representative you want a strong bill passed. Environmental Defense Fund has a good site to voice your opinion.

30 September 2009

The Autumn of Global Warming

Following on our August post on The Summer of Plastic, the overriding eco-theme of the new season is shaping up to be global warming (I'll skip the overused "heating up" metaphor). We at SEE Turtles are glad to see increasing coverage of the issue after a summer dominated by the health care debate. While we also feel strongly about health care, we don't agree with President Obama's recent remark that its the "defining issue of our generation." In our opinion, global warming is clearly the biggest challenge right now, one who's reverberations will go way beyond our country's economy and public health.

Among the recent news on climate change is today's introduction of the Senate version of a climate bill (from MSNBC.com). We're happy to see a larger cut in the short-term (20% by 2020) and other improvements from the House version, but this bill is a starting point that is sure to be negotiated downward as it makes it way through the Senate. Also coming out today is our new page on how sea turtles will be affected by a changing climate, you might be surprised at how many ways these creatures will be affected. An obvious impact on turtles is sea level rise, here's a TreeHugger article on the imminence of a two meter rise (6.5 feet for the metric-impaired).

Despite the uncertain fate of climate legislation in the Senate, there is some good news out there. Japan's new government has announced a much stronger commitment to reducing emissions (from BBC) and China is rapidly moving forward on renewable energy (from Grist). Companies are jumping ship from the US Chamber of Commerce (also Grist) for their stance on the issue (our neighbor in Beaverton, Nike just joined the list!). I used to work for a group called Ozone Action that effectively dismantled a corporate group called the Global Climate Coalition, its good to see this kind of work still going on. However, even when there's good news, like when WWF discovers more than 150 new species in the Greater Mekong region of Asia, there's a flip side - these species may already be threatened by climate change.

We encourage everyone out there who cares about wildlife to get involved in the upcoming debate about climate legislation. One great way to take part will be to join 350.org's international day of action, with events around the world. Expect to see from us several ways you can help through our Twitter, Facebook, blog and other social networks.

-Brad Nahill

23 September 2009

Should We Let Pandas Go Extinct?

MSNBC has a thought provoking article about the strategy of pouring money into panda conservation. They quote a radio interview by Chris Packham, a who hosts a tv show on BBC in the UK and runs a bat conservation group, suggesting conservationists "pull the plug" on the panda, which is a common symbol for wildlife conservation efforts. He has since walked back his statements a bit though continues to suggest that funds would be better used protecting ecosystems as opposed to specific species.

While he has a point that conservation expenditures are skewed towards cuddly creatures while many less charismatic species struggle, his argument misses some key facts. First, much of species-specific work (whether pandas or lions or whales) benefits the entire ecosystem through the creation of protected areas, restrictions on destructive activities, and education that helps connect people to nature. Second, any experienced environmental fundraiser will tell you that every conservation effort is under-funded and few people will donate to protect something they don't feel connected to (such as bats). By using charismatic creatures to raise funds, all wildlife benefits from efforts to combat global warming, overfishing, and other major threats.

Finally, charismatic creatures inspire people to become better environmental stewards. Local communities who benefit from tourism around creatures like pandas (or sea turtles or tigers) are more likely to protect their local habitat from exploitation that would affect the flagship species and every other animal that lives there.

I suspect Mr. Packham's aim was to stir debate and may be related to the difficulty of fundraising for bat conservation (isn't that species-specific conservation?). He may have accomplished that goal, though hopefully not to the detriment of panda conservation.

18 September 2009

Cruise Ships: Good or Bad for coastal communities?

Friends of the Earth recently came out with their ratings of large cruise ship companies on their green efforts. Large cruise ships have tremendous impacts on ocean habitats and coastal communities and its good to see organizations advocating for improvement. The ratings were based upon companies records on sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance, and transparency of information. We would like to see in future reports how these companies interact (positively or negatively) with coastal communities and if there is support for local environmental and social programs.

Cruise ships can damage ocean habitats by dumping their waste at sea and the large boats (which are basically floating cities) can emit a significant amount of air pollution. Local communities also lose out on a large amount of the economic benefits of tourism, as people spend only a short time on shore and don't stay in local hotels. On the other hand, cruise ships do reduce the need for a lot of coastal infrastructure in fragile ecosystems.

The top rated companies include Holland America (B+), Norwegian (B-), and Princess Cruises (B-). The lowest ratings (F) went to Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Lines. These ratings however, didn't include some very responsible companies who use smaller boats. Our favorite is Linblad Expeditions, one the world's top ecotourism companies, who take strong measures to reduce their impacts and generate large amounts of funding for conservation efforts.

You can find more information on environmentally-friendly cruises in our Resources for Responsible Turtle Travel Page. More on the report, including the response from the cruise industry on MSNBC.com.

14 September 2009

Litter control vs Plastic Bag Bans

Over the weekend, the Santa Cruz Sentinal published a response from the American Chemistry Council to an editorial advocating for a ban on plastic bags (As We See It: Scourge of plastic bags). Not surprisingly, the plastics industry puts the blame for the ever-increasing growth of plastic in the oceans on the consumer, pushing the onus for action on government agencies and beachgoers. While we agree that there should be more recycling facilities, increased enforcement of littering laws, and programs that encourage behavior change, the exponential growth of plastic in the ocean (see August 24 post: The Summer of Plastic) means serious action must be taken now. Bans on plastic bags are the only immediately effective way to keep these bags out of the ocean.

So beachgoers, yes, do your part and participate in events like this weekend's International Coastal Cleanup. Buy reusable bags to take to the supermarket with you. Let other people who litter know that they need to clean up after themselves. But perhaps most importantly, show your support for serious action to reduce the spread of plastic bags in our environment by voting for bans, bag fees, and other restrictions.

-Brad Nahill

11 September 2009

Please Help Conservationists Rebuild After Jimena

A guest post from our partners in Baja California Sur:

Last Monday Hurricane Jimena spared Los Cabos but slammed into the Bahía Magdalena region of Mexico¹s Baja California peninsula. There were no fatalities, but the majority of homes and infrastructure in the region were destroyed or severely damaged. Some news coverage:


Many of you have inquired over the past week about Hurricane Jimena. A couple of dozen Tortugueros and their families from the communities of Puerto López Mateos, San Lázaro, San Carlos, and Puerto Magdalena lost their homes to Hurricane Jimena and need our help.

For example, Julio Solís, a local fisherman who founded and now directs Magdalena Baykeeper in San Carlos (who many of you will remember from the ISTS in Loreto for his rising speech on the Grupo Tortuguero) along with his extended family have been uprooted. Two thirds of Julio¹s house was torn apart when Jimena made landfall. Rebuilding Julio¹s house will cost about $2,000.

The extended family of Chuy Lucero, long-time field coordinator of the Grupo Tortuguero (who you may remember for his white sombrero in Loreto)including his brothers, nephews, and their families had their homes at San Lázaro completely washed away by Jimena¹s storm surge and heavy winds. Rebuilding one of the Luceros¹ island houses will cost about $1400 (the roofs and siding flew with the wind but the beams and studs didn't blow or drift far).

The Solises and the Luceros are just a few of many Tortuguero families who
suffered by Jimena. Our target is to swiftly raise funds to help these and
other Grupo Tortuguero families rebuild their homes. Please consider making a donation of funds, materials or expertise to help.

From México you can make a deposit directly into a special BANAMEX account of the Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias, A.C. that we established for this purpose (email us for details).

From the USA you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Pro Peninsula Fund at The Ocean Foundation by clicking here
(https://www.propeninsula.org/donation_checkout.php); please note Hurricane Fund in the comments section of the donation form. If you would like the funds to go to any family in particular please contact us directly.

If you can't spare the funds but have construction materials or expertise,
please contact one of us directly to see how you might be able to help.

Many thanks,

Aarón Esliman, Executive Director, Grupo Tortuguero

Hoyt Peckham, Director, Proyecto Caguama

Kama Dean, Program Officer, Pro Peninsula Fund at The Ocean Foundation

Mark Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation

Wallace J. Nichols, Co-Director, Ocean Revolution

10 September 2009

Turtles vs. Drunks

Today's New York Times Environment section has an article about the plight of sea turtles nesting on Miami Beach. This beach is a perfect case study for the multitude of threats that turtles and other wildlife face with large-scale coastal development. In addition to multitudes of tourists with their beach gear, the nesting females have to avoid recreational boaters on their way in.

One thing that struck me in the article was how persistent the problem of poaching (both of adult turtles and their eggs) remains. People, including conservationists, often think of poaching as a problem in developing countries, one that was solved here in the US a long time ago. However, when their is money to be made on the black market, you can bet that someone will be doing it.

The most frustrating problem these turtle face in Miami Beach, though, has to be the drunks. Normally, night is the safest time for turtles and hatchlings, under cover of darkness, they have a better chance of avoiding predators. Here, as the bars close, their overly intoxicated patrons go looking for the next fun thing; the staked off nests become an attractive target.

Thankfully, like most nesting beaches around the world, there are dedicated people working to make this beach a safe place again for the turtles. These conservationists range from park staff to aquarium specialists and even a "Turtle Dude" camping on the beach. Kudos to these folks, who spend every day protecting turtles in one of the most challenging locations in the US.

08 September 2009

Jimena Rebuilding Efforts Begin in Baja California Sur

Hurricane Jimena has finally left the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, after several days of hanging out, doing substantial damage to small communities along the peninsula. Damage was not as great as feared, as the storm weakened dramatically before hitting land, dropping from a Category 4 to a Category 1. So far, only one person has been reported to have died when a creek flooded the city of Ciudad Constitucion.

Our new Field Director, Chris Pesenti, was in La Paz when the storm hit. That major city, as well as Cabo San Lucas, were spared most of the damage, but several communities that we work with were among the hardest hit. Chris received word that the town of Lopez Mateos was cut off and had no access to water or electricity service. Along with Chuy Lucero of
the Grupo Tortuguero, Chris took a large tank of water and successfully crossed the river blocking entrance to town. Other towns including Loreto and Puerto San Carlos suffered damage and electricity black-outs.

From Chris: "what impacted me the most was the attitude of the people, the smiles, everyone happy that they escaped with just material damage, and that with all the fallen roofs and walls there was no loss of life. The man whose house suffered TWO fallen palm trees jokingly told me that at least they kept the roof in place. I felt pretty inspired as a human..."

Chris will be discussing the best ways to help with local leaders. SEE Turtles will do its part to help the rebuilding efforts in partnership with Baja Expeditions. Donations from our Nov 3-10 trip will help support these communities, please contact us if you would like to help.

-Brad Nahill

04 September 2009

Dolphin watching vs Swimming with Dolphins

Keeping on the dolphin theme, Planet Green has an eye-opening story on the not so nice side of swimming with the dolphin programs. While SWTD, as Planet Green calls it, is definitely preferable to say, dolphin hunting (see post on Cove, The), it would definitely not fall into the conservation travel realm. We can certainly understand the desire to swim with and interact with amazing animals like dolphins, and imagine the people that partake in these activities come away with a deep appreciation and connection to nature, as noted in this Travel & Leisure article.

But the effects on the dolphins is not worth the fun for the people. These kinds of programs encourage the capture of wild dolphins, can cause stress and injury on the animals, and most of these programs are unregulated to ensure humane treatment. The article quotes a statistic from World Society for the Protection of Animals that claims more than half of dolphins caught at sea die within 3 months.

SEE Turtles suggests researching programs that promote dolphin conservation, such as Earthwatch in Greece or this one with Global Vision International in Kenya. At the very least, search out dolphin tours in the wild that take strong efforts to reduce the impact on the animals and support their protection.

-Brad Nahill

03 September 2009

Dolphin watching vs dolphin hunting

The movie The Cove, about a group of dolphin-lovers who travel to Taiji, Japan to document the annual dolphin hunt, has been drawing a lot of attention lately. The goal of the movie's producers is to pressure the Japanese government to end this needed slaughter, which according to them captures as many as 20,000 dolphins. These dolphins are sold to unknowing Japanese consumers or shipped off to various aquaria.

Anyone following the longstanding efforts to get Japan to give up its whale hunting (see Aug 19th post) will know how stubborn their government can be with wildlife issues. However, the movie, despite being a small-budget documentary that has been shown at relatively few theatres, already seems to be having an affect.

The Save Japan Dolphins posted this recent update from Taiji as the annual hunt is supposed to be starting. We here at SEE Turtles love that part of their argument is that dolphin watching can be as lucrative (if not more) that dolphin hunting. Lets hope that message gets through!

-Brad Nahill

02 September 2009

Should Companies Support Conservation?

The New York Times blog DotEarth has an interesting post today on whether Apple should support leopard conservation since it named its newest operating system Snow Leopard. There's an interesting discussion in the comments (though I wasn't able to submit my own due to a technical glitch on the NYT site, grrr.).

It won't surprise anyone that we at SEE Turtles believe that companies should indeed support the animals that they use for marketing. In the tourism world, this is especially important since the use of the animal implies that their travelers will see that animal and that the company's business is directly linked to that animal's survival.

Below is what I would have posted had the site allowed me.

I think its a great idea that companies that benefit from the use of an endangered animal to help market itself allocate a portion of their marketing budget towards conservation efforts. When a company uses the image of an animal this way, its attempting to connect the animal's characteristics to its way of doing business (for example, "Put a tiger in your tank". If that animal ends up extinct, the company's brand would be affected. Imagine a child in 30 years asking what a tiger is after seeing it on a logo?

Personally, I am more concerned by companies that use these animals in their logos and then engage in activities that directly harmfully affect that animal (I'm thinking of a certain giant
oil company with a different big cat in its logo) and then donate a tiny amount of money towards their conservation (compared to their profits). For a company to associate itself with the symbolism of a wild animal, then directly promote its extinction through company operations is especially disturbing and can't be remedied with a small donation.

-Brad Nahill

UPDATE: Finally able to submit my comment. Also just found out that our friend, photographer Steve Winter of National Geographic fame has had his images licensed by Apple for Snow Leopard, a great start! Steve was kind enough to share this photo, one of his first.

01 September 2009

On using hatchlings for tourism

I just came across a disturbing article about turtle watching in Jakarta, Indonesia. Normally, I'd be excited to see new sites and communities encouraging people to learn about and witness the beauty of sea turtles in the wild, but examples like this show just how far responsible turtle watching has to go.

At Thousand Islands National Marine Park, hawksbill hatchlings are kept for tourism and educational purposes. Even though they claim to release them six months or a year later, their claim to protect the turtles from predators is thin. Turtles (like any other animal) have to avoid predators but have evolved to do that from hatching. Trying to head start turtles like this without expertise is not the ideal way to protect turtles. Even the head of the park admits "Actually its better to release the turtles soon after they are hatched".

Not only are some of the turtles kept for education, 10% of them are sent to a nearby resort, which is especially disturbing. The article goes on to promote coral transplanting, where tourists can cut live coral to transplant somewhere else (where is not clear), which I can't imagine helps the natural reefs either.

Our friend Thushan Kapurusinghe of Turtle Conservation Project in Sri Lanka has told us of similar hatcheries there as well. A Sri Lankan operator, Eco Team has a great article on how these hatcheries can be harmful to turtles. If you want to see hatchlings, make sure you are visiting a respected conservation project that releases all of their hatchlings as soon as possible (ideally in the evening) after emerging.

-Brad Nahill

31 August 2009

Protect Las Baulas National Park

Costa Rica, with a few notable exceptions, has done a relatively good job at preventing the coastal tourism overdevelopment that has devastated nesting beaches like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. Local citizen groups have been able to prevent some of these proposed developments, but this time powerful hotel interests are working to downgrade the national park status of Las Baulas National Park at Playa Grande on the Pacific coast. The battle between groups like The Leatherback Trust and the hotels in this area has been simmering for years, with little progress.

This beach, also known as Playa Grande, has been one of the most important leatherback nesting beaches in the world. Though their nesting numbers have declined drastically due mostly to accidental capture in fishing gear, the beach is also threatened by the incursion of hotels and their lighting onto the beach. Conservation group NRDC is one of several groups working to maintain the park's status, make your voice heard on this issue at their BioGems website.

25 August 2009

Travel Insurance with a Conscience

Visiting a sea turtle project, while it can be an inspiring and life-changing event, raises many issues that travelers might not encounter on a typical vacation. In some places, you might have to walk a few miles along a sandy beach in the dark, avoiding driftwood and other debris washed ashore. In other places, you may be hopping aboard boats and crossing choppy waters. While we take pains (no pun intended) to ensure the sites we promote are safe, accidents happen while traveling.

That's why we recommend travel insurance to everyone who goes to a turtle project abroad, whether volunteering for two months or joining a week-long tour. We suggest World Nomads, based in Australia but covering people from nearly every country on earth. In addition to their comprehensive policies and simplicity of use, World Nomads shares our philosophy that travel should benefit the places that are visited. Their Footprints Network has raised more than $650,000 to fund community projects such as repairing schools in Cambodia and India, training teachers in Nepal, and providing clean water to many communities.

24 August 2009

The Summer of Plastic

We've long known that plastic is harmful to people and wildlife. Images of fish and wildlife stuck in 6 pack rings years ago caused the industry to develop photodegradable versions (though we won't debate how effective that has been today). Studies showing the harmful effects of BPA in plastic bottles have been filtering through the media since Canada outlawed the chemical a year ago (what are you waiting for FDA?).

Yet the real coverage of plastic seems to have grown exponentially this summer. A recent report presented at the American Chemical Society (hardly a green organization) concludes that plastic breaks down in the ocean, releasing harmful chemicals to collect in fish and wildlife (and eventually us). Multiple expeditions to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (currently estimated to be the size of Texas and growing quickly) have also spread the word about our unsustainable use of plastic. Finally, the recent vote on Seattle's 20 cent/bag fee also attracted a lot of attention. Pro-plastic groups pumped nearly $1.5 million dollars into defeating the fee (outspending the anti-plastic groups by 17 - 1), but advocates in Seattle remain optimistic about the future. Incredible that places like Mexico City and Mumbai are now ahead of highly-touted green cities like Seattle and Portland, OR on plastic bags. Plastic is a favorite issue of our own J. Nichols, check out his latest post on Thinking Like a Coconut.

Despite this progress, the chemical industry is fighting back. Wonder how long it will take before fraudulent letters from citizens groups against plastic bans turn up written by the same pr flacks involved in the anti-cap and trade scandal?

For those interested in how plastic affects sea turtles, we just posted a new page on this very topic.

-Brad Nahill

20 August 2009

Napo Wildlife Center (Ecuador) shows positive unintended consequences

Treehugger has a wonderful slide show of a visit to the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador, run by the indigenous Kichwa tribe. While many people attack ecotourism as greenwashing because flying to these places burns lots of fuel. What these critics don't seem to grasp is that without this tourism income, the world would lose some of its most valuable treasures. This point is driven home in the article by showing the only real economic alternative in the region - oil drilling. Look no further than the lawsuit against Chevron Texaco to see what kind of impact this has had on the Ecuadorian Amazon. There are several sea turtle nesting beaches that would be empty without ecotourism, all of the eggs would be collected and sold on the black market.

One thing that caught my eye was the slide that said that many of the Kichwa had stopped eating monkeys, long a favorite food, since the tourists wanted to see them. This kind of behavior change can end up being one of the most powerful positive impacts for conservation even though its not part of the original intention. In some turtle communities, tourism programs are started mostly as an economic issue with a limited reach to residents. However, once other people in the community realize that their family and friends depend, directly or indirectly, on the survival of the turtles, it becomes a powerful social pressure to stop eating eggs.

19 August 2009

Heath Ledger's Anti-Whaling Video

Finally got around to checking out the much hyped new Modest Mouse video directed by Heath Ledger. Any video showing the reality of whaling is bound to be dark and intense, but this video goes to levels I haven't seen since Pink Floyd's The Wall. Using animation instead of real video, Ledger turns the tables by showing whales out on human hunt and graphically shows the full cycle from capture to processing and consumption.

Ledger's production company The Masses is supporting (quite appropriately for the edgy video) the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society of Whale Wars fame. For every download on Itunes in the first month, the proceeds will go towards anti-whaling activities. Read the backstory here.

18 August 2009

SEE Turtles Receives Award from Nature's Path

We are pleased to announce that SEE Turtles has received the Nature's Path Organic Foods 2009 EnviroKidz Giving Back Award! We appreciate this show of support from one of the foremost sustainable foods companies around. The donation will help us launch a new school outreach program that will encourage students across the country to learn about sea turtles and help us save them through fundraisers and by participating in hands-on conservation work in Costa Rica and Baja California, Mexico.

The Giving Back Award comes from a percentage of profits from the popular EnviroKidz brand, including Cheetah Chomps and Gorilla Munch. Check out our press release for more information.

17 August 2009

Advice on Protecting Reefs on Vacation

Last week, the Washington Post Green Section had a wonderful response to a question from a traveler on snorkeling in coral reefs without damaging them. Kudos to Nina Shen Rastogi for both getting the story straight on the leading causes of coral reef decline (climate change, fishing, pollution) as well as educating readers on how to avoid damage to reefs (don't step on them, look for responsible operators, avoid stirring up sediment).

The piece also touches on the importance of tourism to communities near the reef and the ability of a great experience to turn a tourist into an activist. We also agree on the dubious claim of damage from sunscreen on reefs. Former Ocean Conservancy scientist Jack Sobel told us the recent study on sunscreen in reefs was not very convincing.

The only missing advice was to give creatures like sea turtles and others plenty of space while swimming, don't ride them or try to touch them. Check out our turtle-friendly travel advice here.

12 August 2009

Legislation threatens turtles in North Carolina

The News & Observer reports that North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, a recently elected Democrat, surprised environmental advocates in the state by signing on to a bill introduced by Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina. This bill would roll back important protections for wildlife on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore including sea birds, turtles, and other beach-life by granting greater access to sections of beach to vehicles and fishing.

Three species of turtles nest on this beach, including primarily greens and loggerheads with an occasional leatherback nest. While nesting numbers are not high (total nests have generally been in the range of 80-100/year), numbers are increasing, showing that protections are starting to work.

The likelihood of this bill passing is unclear. If you'd like to express your opinion on this legislation to Senator Hagan, you can contact her at her website or by calling 919-856-4630.

10 August 2009

Key hawksbill beach in Malaysia threatened

WWF-Malaysia reports that a key endangered hawksbill nesting site is threatened by a large resort that the government has recently approved. Pulau Upeh is home to 1/5th of the entire peninsular Malaysia nesting population and would be devastated by the planned 200 chalet rooms on the tiny 4.5 acre island. With only 2 weeks between the announcement of the project and the beginning of construction, the project cannot possibly determine a long-range plan to protect the hawksbills and adequately manage the tourism.

05 August 2009

Planet Green/Blue August

Check out Blue August on Discovery's Planet Green. There are lots of great articles on marine debris, sustainable seafood, and getting active. Phillippe and Alexandra Cousteau have several videos you can watch as well. Our favorite article? Ban the Bags, Butts, and Bottles, where you can submit photos of beaches affected by trash.

03 August 2009

Nau's Grant for Change

We've entered SEE Turtles co-founder Dr. Wallace J. Nichols in Nau's Grant for Change Contest. The winner receives $10,000 towards their work, which we would use to expand our project to new species. Please help us out by taking two minutes to register (just your name and email) and rating J's entry at http://www.nau.com/collective/grant-for-change/dr--wallace--j--nichols-684.html

30 July 2009

Turtles like clean coasts

Environmental group NRDC has just released the report for 2009 on the country's cleanest (and not so clean) beaches. More than 200 beaches were rated, based on water quality testing and beach closures and advisories. Unfortunately, the news was not great, as closings were the 4th highest in 19 years of reporting. One bright spot is that closures dropped 10% from last year, though that was due to less rain than any real improvements in water quality. Stormwater runoff, where treatment plants are overwhelmed by water and end up directly in streams, is the major cause of closures.

Sea turtles and other marine creatures are affected by this pollution as well. Where the report's map coincides with turtle nesting beaches in the US, most spots received commendation for water quality in 2008, which is good news. However, none of the five nesting areas in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina were tested on a regular basis. Only one area, on North Carolina's barrier islands, did not pass for water quality in 2008.

-Brad Nahill

29 July 2009

Tour de Turtles

Our friends at the Caribbean Conservation Corporation are about to launch this year's Tour de Turtles, a "fun, educational journey through the science, research, and geography of sea turtle migration." On their site, you can follow turtles tracked from Tortuguero (Costa Rica), the Archie Carr Refuge (Florida), El Salvador, and Chiriqui Beach (Panama). Each turtle has a cause that it supports, ranging from marine debris, pollution, and coastal development. You can also make a turtle dance and record it! My money's on Arenita (aka Turtle 856), El Salvador's turtles need all the help they can get!

22 July 2009

Locally-based offsets

While running a project that straddles the two worlds of conservation and travel, we have struggled with the best ways to address the carbon emissions of the trips that we promote. We certainly feel a responsibility to do our part to reduce climate change, sea turtles are especially susceptible to rising seas, bleaching reefs, and warmer temperatures. So far, we have encouraged travelers to offset their trips through reputable organizations like Sustainable Travel International and incorporated tree planting into itineraries.

However, our clear goal is to generate as much support as possible for locally-based sea turtle conservation efforts. We have decided not to include offsets in tour costs as we already include donations to turtle groups. In the sites that we work with, we can see concrete benefits from this modest funding, which wouldn't be the case with mandatory contributions toward offsets.

TreeHugger today has an interesting post on Canopy Co., an Ecuador-based organization that supports community-based offset projects. As SEE Turtles grows, we hope to support these kinds of projects that have both benefits for communities and concrete reductions in emissions, ideally in the places that we promote.

16 July 2009

Shark victims want more sharks

In one of the more creative recent ways to push for conservation of ocean wildlife, Pew Environment Group organized several survivors of shark attacks to lobbying US government officials to strengthen a ban on shark finning in US waters.

It takes some real open-mindedness for a person who was nearly killed by a shark to work on behalf of increasing shark populations. Finning has taken a huge toll on sharks around the world, with millions of sharks being lost every year to fill soup bowls in Asia.

From the Pew press release: “The media makes sharks out to be monsters, some people make them out to be huggable little creatures, but neither is completely true,” said Al Brenneka, of Raleigh, North Carolina, who lost his arm after being bitten while surfing in Del Ray Beach, Florida, in 1976. Brenneka now runs a shark attack survivors network and also tags and releases sharks for research. “Sharks are wild animals that deserve our respect, not our retribution.”

For those who do want to (safely) help shark research in Costa Rica, check out Sea Turtle Restoration Project's trip to the Cocos Islands in Costa Rica this August and stay tuned for more shark-related trips in the future from SEE Turtles.

-Brad Nahill

15 July 2009

Stimulating ocean cleanup

Ocean wildlife off the coast of Oregon are getting a boost with a recent grant from NOAA to remove old crab pots. These pots, which are lost in storms or when propellers cut the lines, often ensnare passing whales, turtles, sea lions, and other creatures. The state's Department of Fish & Wildlife estimates that as many as 10 percent of the pots are lost, roughly 15,000 of them dropping to the ocean floor each year.

This program, apparently the largest grant ever given to clean up discarded fishing gear, will hire fishermen to retrieve the pots.
While this program, estimated to clean up 4,000 pots, is a good start, there is a lot more to do and no plan to continue the retrieval after the funds run out in 2010. State officials hope that fishermen will keep the program going once funding runs out, which seems a bit optimistic at a time when catches are dropping.

More information at msnbc.com.

10 July 2009

2007 OpEd by Homero Aridjis on Conservation Tourism

Year of the Turtle (translated, Spanish follows)

Homero Aridjis

La Refora, Jun 3, 2007

A blue wind shakes my flippers, a strange tide turns on my chest, the green sea, the dark sea is calling me, the old ocean is yelling at me in the sand.

Laura Laud (leatherback), “Song of the Sea Turtle”

“The light of the sun has drowned on the horizon. The tenuous moon illuminates the earth. From the heart of the night left a sea turtle. A wave deposited her on the sand. The males had left in search of their feeding grounds. Only the females ventured to the edge to lay their eggs. A few at a time. The long beach giving to the open sea.

“And it extended kilometers and kilometers until vanishing into darkness, there in the dunes. The waves pounding the coast like white fury. In its return, they take small creatures toward the sea.” (Aridjis, The Search for Archelon. Odessy of the seven turtles.)

This fantastic spectacle, seen by human beings for millennia, is still repeated on Mexican beaches on the Pacific Ocean. But soon, if we don’t do something to conserve it, seeing a leatherback nesting in Mexiquillo, Michoacan or on the coasts of Oaxaca and Sonora, will be like catching sight of a stegosaurus grazing between plants in the Jurassic. The children of the future, you could almost say, in the second half of the 21st century, won’t be conscious of the natural wonders of those that are being lost. Only if the government and civil society work together, supported by large media outlets, and in close collaboration with communities, and ethnic groups like the Seri Indians who venerate the leatherback, can we accomplish the miracle of the leatherback not going extinct.

At the end of May of 1990, the Mexican government, under pressure from the Group of 100 and a coalition formed by national and international organizations, decreed the total prohibition of killing the seven species of turtles in Mexican waters and beaches. That way the olive ridley was protected, the most sacrificed of all in the infamous Mazunte fleamarket, and in clandestine markets that were detected only by their pools of blood that left their primitive shelters dedicated to the death of the chelonia. In a National Geographic movie about the Mexico of the past, a hidden camera filmed the moment where the turtle poachers killed the ridleys with a bullet in the head or a machete. Those captured in the high sea had their flippers cut, to later return them to the water, where they drowned and suffered long agony or attacked by sharks. In the recent arribada season, we could state, on the beaches of Escobilla and Morro Ayuta, the fruit of this decree: the massive return of the olive ridley to nest on Oaxaca’s beaches.

Just as 2006 was the Year of the Golden Eagle and 2005 was the Year of the Jaguar, both species in danger of extinction, all of us concerned about the survival of the sea turtle celebrated that this June 5th, World Environment Day, president Felipe Calderon declared 2007 the Year of the Sea Turtle. With this declaration, special attention will be called to the leatherback turtle, a specie that is very close to disappearing. If in his term president Calderon succeeds in saving the leatherback from extinction, whose population has been and is being decimated by fishing gear and coastal habitat destruction, his government will go down in history as one determined to protect one of the oldest species on earth.

With this opportune declaration, and with an Interamerican Cooperative Treaty, our country would head the environmental crusade for the shared protection of these migratory species, since Mexico has more species of sea turtles, more nesting beaches, and more places to observe them in the sea than any other country. Mexico should be the leader in the sustainable observation of the sea turtle, and in using the obtained benefits that are derived for the prosperity of local communities. If the sea turtle is one of the most important animals to Mexico, by consequence we have a responsibility to protect them and conserve them.

According to a WWF study, while 10 million people spend more than $1.25 billion dollars every year to observe whales and dolphins, less than 200,000 people frequent sites for sea turtles. The study showed that local communities can earn three times from tourism than the short-term value of consuming sea turtles and its eggs without taking into account the long-term value of the role of sea turtles on ecosystems, cultures, traditions, and economies; making the turtle a symbol of the authentic sustainability when equipping local populations with the infrastructure to receive ecotourists. Guiding the public to the “turtle towns”, one can save the turtle and transform their economy. Biologist Wallace J. Nichols, student of the oceanic migrations of the sea turtle, says that “people always tell of their experiences swimming with turtles or seeing them at night laying their eggs on the beach. For some, it changes their life.”

To finish I cite the epigraph of The Search for Archelon, whose verses express the magic of nighttime nesting of a hawksbill turtle on a beach of the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, as millions of years ago,
we arrive at the same beach.
Today, as millions of years ago,
the same mystery.

Carmen Carey (hawksbill), “Memories of the Caribbean”

07 July 2009

Costa Rica is the Happiest Country

According to the "Happy Planet Index", a report by the UK-based New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica is the world's happiest country. With the highest life satisfaction in the world, the second highest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, and a relatively small ecological footprint, the small Central American country topped the list.

Unfortunately, the list doesn't delve into how much happiness having lots of sea turtle causes in Costa Rica's residents though the turtles will certainly appreciate how efficiently the country uses its resources! Undoubtedly a relatively environmentally-friendly tourism economy has helped them top the list. As the number one industry in the country, the government for the most part over the past 30 years has learned that protecting its incredible natural wealth is a key to attracting visitors that help to lower poverty and provide funds for a strong health care and educational systems.

-Brad Nahill

Opposition to shark tours in Hawaii grows

Surfers, community members, and conservationists are building an effort to end shark cage tours in Hawaii over concerns of teaching sharks to associate people with food and throwing natural systems out of whack. Sharks could certainly use some good pr and some leading shark conservationists believe that done right, shark tourism could be a net positive to conservation and education efforts. However, putting people in a cage and throwing food into the water around them to shark tours neither benefits conservation nor engenders respect and reverence.

Those interested in seeing and helping sharks should look instead to organizations like Sea Turtle Restoration Project, who is offering a unique opportunity to participate in research on hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Cocos Islands in Costa Rica. Learn more about that trip here.

24 June 2009

100 people and $50,000!

SEE Turtles recently reached two major milestones. One hundred people have now gone to visit turtle conservation sites through tours and volunteer programs. Our project has generated more than $50,000 for local conservation efforts and turtle communities through donations, fees, grants, and spending on tours.

This is just the beginning. Our new volunteer matching service has been extremely popular, with more than 150 inquiries so far, who we are connecting with 10 turtle projects around Central America and Mexico. We are setting up a number of turtle trips next year for museums, zoos, and other organizations and will launch a school field trip and educational program in the Fall.

Check back soon for more updates and check out our upcoming trips to become part of the turtle conservation travel wave!

22 June 2009

A matter of timing

One of the top 2 threats to sea turtles is getting caught and drowning in fishing gear. Being air-breathing reptiles, turtles need to reach the surface to breathe regularly. When they get held under in nets or on lines, they often die. Researchers at NOAA have determined that many of these drownings can be avoided if the turtles are held underwater less than 50 minutes.

As a way to prevent turtle drowning, NOAA has hired a company to create a "tow-time logger" (pun probably intended). This cylinder would record depth and time the net is underwater as a way to reduce turtle mortality while allowing fishermen to keep fishing. Both conservationists and fishermen seem skeptical. Any significant time underwater can hurt turtles even if it doesn't kill them and turtles caught multiple times may not be able to hold their breath as long.

Fishermen wouldn't be too excited about having to pull up their nets very often, which would reduce their catch. However with possible closing of entire fisheries to protect endangered loggerhead turtles, these loggers might be a better option.

More information at MSNBC.com.

-Brad Nahill

16 June 2009

Happy 100th Archie!

Today marks the 100th birthday of the man most responsible for sea turtles still being around.  Dr. Archie Carr was born on June 16th, 1009 in Alabama.  Though not as famous as his contemporary Jacques Cousteau (who turns 100 next year), Dr. Carr was every bit as effective a conservationist.  In his honor, today is also Sea Turtle Day.

Among his many firsts were earning the first doctorate awarded by the University of Florida in zoology, starting the world's first sea turtle project (Tortuguero, Costa Rica), and founding the first organization dedicated to the survival of sea turtles (the Caribbean Conservatio
n Corporation).  Tortuguero (right), now celebrating its 50th 
year, is the world's longest continuously running wildlife conservation and was recently named one of the most successful conservation projects ever by the Smithsonian with a more than 500% increase in green turtle nesting since inception.  Dr. Carr also helped to protect one of the world's most important loggerhead sea turtle nesting beaches in Florida, now known as the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

All turtle lovers owe Dr. Carr a thank you today.  Hopefully he's somewhere where turtles don't have to worry about extinction...

CCC has a moving tribute here.

15 June 2009

Ocean Progress

While climate change legislation is languishing in Congress, ocean conservation efforts have made progress over the past few days.  President Obama recently announced an Ocean Protection Plan that will finally create a national policy that (hopefully) will coordinate between the numerous government agencies that make decisions affecting the ocean.  

This is long overdue and was recommended by two prestigious ocean commissions years ago, only to fall on deaf ears under the previous president.  A strong national ocean policy would not only allow conservation to have an equal voice in the decision-making process, it ideally would also give momentum to creating more marine protected areas where fish and wildlife can be fully protected.  Treehugger has more here.

Another positive step recently was tobacco legislation passed by both houses of Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama.  While not primarily an environmental bill, the expected drop in smoking from the increased regulations is a good thing for the oceans (and land).  Anyone that has participated in a coastal cleanup has picked up dozens of these ubiquitous filters from the beach, where they are tossed without thought by smokers.  For years, these butts have been the top item (by far) found in Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup.  In 2008 alone, more than 3.2 million butts were collected from beaches around the world, a full 28% of total items found!  More information on the legislation at Washington Post.

08 June 2009

Celebrate World Ocean Day by Taking Action

Today is World Ocean Day (not to be confused with World Turtle Day, World Environment Day, or Earth Day) so show your love for the ocean by doing something, big or small. A few suggestions below:

Volunteer with a sea turtle project

Vote for your favorite Shrimp Sucks video by commenting here

Go without plastic for a day

Ask President Obama to ask Congress to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty

Ask your representatives to vote for Waxman - Markey Cap & Trade Legislation to stop global warming

Give someone a blue marble

SEE Turtles near home

01 June 2009

Unsustainable tourism in the Caribbean

The ugly side of mass market tourism is rearing its head in the Caribbean. Two recent articles show the before and after of large scale tourism that don't adequately benefit local communities and negatively affect wildlife. While research has showed that tourism on turtle nesting beaches can be done with minimal impact on turtles, large numbers of people and big hotels are never a good thing.

The first article details a study of how tourism is affecting a unique place in the Cayman Islands called "Stingray City". With up to 2,500 visitors at a time(!) coming to feed, stroke, and swim with the stingrays, this study has shown that the rays had weaker immune systems than non-disturbed rays. Boats also injure the stingrays and feeding of wild animals is never a good idea, especially food that they don't normally eat. A lot more of this kind of research is needed to make sure that tourism doesn't destroy what makes a location unique. SEE Turtles promotes "no viewing" areas where wildlife can avoid human stress and has guidelines for preventing impacts on sea turtles and other ocean wildlife.

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, proposed large scale tourism development near Jaragua National Park threatens both the world's smallest reptile (the Jaragua sphaero or dwarf gecko) and one of the largest (leatherback sea turtles). Proposals includes hotels, golf courses, and a bauxite mine. Local groups such as the Jaragua Group are calling on the government to promote local micro-enterprises that would directly enlist the help of residents.

29 May 2009

Crazy Turtle Hero

CNN is currently featuring "Heroes" from around the world who are working to improve their communities. The featured hero this week is Suzan Lakhan, a co-founder of Nature Seekers in Trinidad.

Her story is truly inspirational, helping to transform a community from one that regularly ate leatherback turtles into one focused on protection. Nature Seekers now runs community development programs including ecotourism and reforestation, as well as protecting one of the world's most important leatherback nesting beaches. And somehow she manages to find the time to run a wonderful guesthouse in Matura! (see photo).

Nature Seekers is a SEE Turtles partner, check out our Trinidad trips if you want to go and meet her in person!