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.