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