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