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ISTS Day 1: “Well this is going to be interesting, isn’t it?”

April 13, 2011

Technically day 1 was Monday, but nothing exciting happened except for that myself and the other members of the Turtle Island Restoration Network team arrived at the symposium safe and sound. Now we’re all registered, and things yesterday really kicked off.

This morning was the welcome event, which I missed… whoops. But there were lovely talks by Jeffrey Seminoff, the ISTS President, Peter Pritchard, a well known sea turtle zoologist, and Karen Bjorndal, a Prof at U of Florida who is also a sea turtle conservationist. Or I guess they were lovely, I wasn’t there but I heard good things. The lesson here is to get there at 8 am even if you are told you don’t have to be.

I did arrive just in time for the four-hour-long special session on “Finding Common Ground in Fisheries Management.”It was a panel session made up of a few fishermen, a few men from the commercial fishing industry, an economist, a random professor who somehow knew something about fisheries but not sea turtles, and two representatives of environmental organizations (STRP and the Sea Turtle Conservancy).

First off, this symposium has over a thousand people in attendance. For some reason they decided to make this whole panel a bunch of old white men (and one woman), and the most diversity obtained was from an old white Australian man. They couldn’t have gotten anyone else from the hundred other countries in attendance to speak about artesian fishing communities? Really?

Well despite that, the panel was incredibly interesting because of the bickering that went between Todd Steiner (STRP Director) and the fishermen/commercial fishery fellows. The first panelist introduced was a man named Peter Dupuy, who is a bitter California fisherman. Bitter, because he is no longer allowed to fish in California waters, understandable. He made his point that he had never harmed sea turtles with his fishery, and then showed pictures of Ostional, Costa Rica and claimed that they were poaching eggs. For a little background: Ostional is a community that harvests sea turtle EGGS in low low numbers. In exchange they provide necessary protection for the rest of the eggs, and they do not harm any of the actual nesting mother turtles. Overall, it is a completely sustainable program that has actually been beneficial to the sea turtle population.
Obviously someone didn’t do his research. He also started calling unnamed NGOs “eco-terrorists”

The next panelist that was introduced was Marydelle Donnelly from the Sea Turtle Conservancy, and she flat out said that the National Marine Fisheries Service was to blame for not doing enough to help endangered sea turtles affected by the fishing industry.

I have written down a bunch of notes from this panel, but for the most part all I have written for the men from the fishing industry is “blah blah blah.” They literally did not answer a single question asked of them and they bounced around from topic to topic, offering nothing except their opinions and not encouraging discussion. I believe the entire point of this panel was to get these individuals to see each others points of view, and to find a “common ground” on which they could agree. Naturally, this was not accomplished. There was a lot of talk that managing sustainable fisheries in order to protect sea turtles needs to be a part of a multinational effort, but honestly a bunch of white guys (and a gal) saying this is not going to help matters.

The Australian guy didn’t seem to care about much, he explained the scientific method to a bunch of scientists. Really? Necessary? I think not. He did explain that the change in fishing and improved conservation needs to come from within communities, especially artesian fishing communities in third world countries. He said something about reaching out to the witch doctor in order to get the rest of the population to follow. The lesson of this story is, “Always look for the witch doctor first.”

Todd, the executive director of STRP, confronted the fishery guys about the use of special hooks and Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), supporting that these technological advances are not going to work to save sea turtles all by themselves. There also needs to be other regulations in addition, there needs to be critical habitat established where fishing will not be allowed, and also a collaboration of efforts on protecting sea turtle nesting beaches. Every stage of the sea turtle’s lives needs to be protected in order for their populations to rebound.

After that very long session, I grabbed some lunch and sat at our Turtle Island table in the main room until my supervisor, Chris Pincetich, gave his talk on challenges faced saving sea turtles during the BP oil spill. It was a short presentation but he brought light to a lot of issues that need to be addressed. During the BP spill, he explained, there was no on-water rescues of sea turtles being conducted until much damage had already been done. The coast guard especially weren’t concerned with the animals out at sea that might have been affected, they waited until the animals washed up on shore to help them out. Not okay.

After his presentation it was time for the poster presentations and the cocktail hour. I grabbed a glass of wine and headed over to my poster and chatted with several people about my poster. I’ll probably do an entire post on my poster and the points made in my poster because this post has really gone on for way too long.

Today is “Student Day” so there is much to look forward too. Student mixer tonight (another free drink!) followed by the Wild & Scenic Sea Turtle film festival where we will be showing The Heartbreak Turtle Today. I’ll be here at the symposium until around 10 tonight with free wi-fi access, so I think I’ll survive.

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