The scene couldn’t have been more perfect. A stage was erected between two sea turtle rehabilitation tanks, where local dignitaries and elected officials rose to address the large gathering of television cameras, reporters and sea turtle supporters. As if somehow sensing the significance of the event, every now and then one of the large turtles would surface with a splash of excitement.
The Governor spoke first, thanking those at the gathering for their support of sea turtle conservation and reaffirming the State’s own commitment toward protecting the species. Gov. Chiles then acknowledged the hard work of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and its members in coordinating the license plate campaign. The bill’s sponsors then spoke about the long-overdue need to provide a funding source for the Department of Environmental Protection’s Marine Turtle Protection Program (MTPP). Once the tags go on sale at vehicle registration offices throughout Florida, probably by November 1997, the MTPP should always have a secure source of funding.
Program Director David Godfrey also took the stage to thank Gov. Chiles, the bill sponsors and all the state organizations that helped during the petition-gathering phase of the campaign. Godfrey concluded by issuing a challenge to elected officials, state environmental regulators and the citizens of Florida.
“Since the beginning, this has been a citizen-driven initiative to fund a program that is very important to the people of Florida,” said Godfrey. “What we have said, in essence, is that sea turtles are important to us, and we are willing to pay for their protection. By signing this bill into law, the Florida Legislature and Governor Chiles are accepting our offer. Now, it is up to citizens to follow through by purchasing a sea turtle plate. And it is up to the Department of Environmental Protection to see that our money is spent wisely and that sea turtles and their habitat are better protected in Florida.”
CCC and its members will be watching.