Earlier this month, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) was contacted by turtle colleagues in Mexico who had spotted a green turtle with a satellite transmitter on her back nesting in Quintana Roo, Mexico. It was our Esperanza from Cuba! After receiving photos from Mexico, STC was able to identify Esperanza by her flipper tag number (which is unique to only her) and her satellite transmitter.
This discovery is very important because it helps confirm a pattern our partners with the Cuban Marine Turtle Conservation Program have been observing recently based on flipper tags and genetics. It was the same area where they had seen several previous nesters from Cuba go.
What are sea turtles that nested in CUBA doing nesting in MEXICO?? This is very unusual, and it suggests that sea turtles may not be as loyal to one beach as we thought! Most females return faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested!
One of the benefits of using satellite transmitters to track sea turtles is that it helps us determine turtles’ nesting site fidelity. Or in this case, lack of fidelity.
We will continue to watch Esperanza closely over these next few months and so can you! As part of the Tour de Turtles program, you can visit Esperanza’s tracking map to see where she travels next! /trackingmap.php?id=144
Esperanza is a beautiful adult green sea turtle who was released with a satellite transmitter after nesting in Guanahacabibes Natural Park, Cuba on June 29, 2016. This turtle mama laid 152 eggs! She measured 107 cm in curved carapace (shell) length and 93 cm in curved carapace width. Esperanza, which means “hope in Spanish,” was named by her sponsors at SEA LIFE Trust and is participating in the 2016 Tour de Turtles migration marathon.
To learn more about Esperanza and the rest of our Tour de Turtles competitors, visit www.TourdeTurtles.org
Kashmir World Foundation (KwF), in collaboration with Sea Turtle Conservancy and Brevard County, Florida, will be conducting a 3-day hands-on workshop on the design, fabrication and operation of programmable multi-copters for use in environmental monitoring. The workshop will assist you in creating a basic platform to evaluate a variety of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for diverse habitats and environments while providing the expertise you need to build, maintain, and fly your drone.
To download event flyer: FlyForConservation
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) announces a change in the scientific oversight of its international sea turtle research and monitoring programs. Effective in July, the position of Scientific Director will transition from Dr. Emma Harrison to Dr. Roldán Valverde. Anyone interested in collaborating with STC on research projects in Costa Rica, Panama and other international sites are encouraged to reach out directly to Dr. Valverde at firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise, anyone interested in exploring opportunities to serve as a Research Assistant with the Tortuguero program or at STC’s project sites in Panama can now direct those inquires to Roldán.
While STC is very excited about what Dr. Valverde will bring to this position, the organization is equally sad to announce the departure of Dr. Emma Harrison, who has resigned to explore new opportunities in the field of biological conservation. Dr. Harrison has worked with STC off and on since 1998 and has served as Scientific Director since 2006. Through her leadership and passion, Dr. Harrison continued a long tradition of outstanding scientific oversight of STC’s sea turtle monitoring programs; she trained and inspired countless research assistants and helped expand STC’s education and community outreach programs in both Costa Rica and Panama. Emma will be greatly missed by STC, though she will forever remain a part of the STC family and the history of the organization.
As STC’s incoming Scientific Director, Dr. Valverde will provide scientific oversight of STC’s various sea turtle research programs, particularly the long-term projects in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and Bocas del Toro, Panama. Over two decades ago, as a young Costa Rican biologist, Roldán served as Research Coordinator of STC’s Tortuguero research program. Since that time, he has achieved international recognition in the field of sea turtle research and is a leading expert in the area of sea turtle physiology. Dr. Valverde served recently as President of the International Sea Turtle Society; he is well published; and he currently serves as a graduate biology professor at Southeast Louisiana University in New Orleans. As a native Costa Rican and an accomplished scientist and educator, Roldán will be in an ideal position to continue elevating the science and the effectiveness of STC’s many research and conservation programs. He also will help STC expand its efforts to cultivate and train young biologists from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Valverde’s position with STC is endowed by the Emily T. Clay Scientific Director’s Endowment.
The 11th annual Endangered Species Day is May 20th, 2016! Endangered Species Day was created by Congress in an effort to raise awareness of the many endangered, threatened, and at risk species and the critical role they play in their environments.
Many zoos, parks, wildlife refuges, museums, schools and community centers, among other participants, will host educational events to promote and celebrate Endangered Species Day and the reasons behind its creation. To find an event near you, visit http://www.endangered.org/campaigns/endangered-species-day/
Endangered Species Day raises awareness about the many endangered species we have in our own communities. For example, did you know Florida has more endangered species than any other Atlantic state? Population growth coupled with habitat loss, tourism, and pollution are just a few factors that have imperiled many species in our state. In addition, Endangered Species Day is also a great time to celebrate success stories, like the recovery of the green turtle, the alligator, and the bald eagle.Thanks to the significant strides we have made under the Endangered Species Act, we are celebrating more and more success stories with each passing year.
For decades all sea turtles in U.S. waters have been listed under the Endangered Species Act, which was created in 1973.They are protected by the NOAA Fisheries in the ocean and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in their beach nesting habitats along U.S. coasts. In the United States threats to sea turtles include habitat loss, pollution and disease, boat strikes, entanglement in marine debris and accidental capture in fisheries. However, unlike other species of sea turtles, green turtles interact less with fisheries, which has contributed significantly to their recovery and made them an Endangered Species Act success story. During the nesting season of 1990, fewer than 50 green sea turtles were documented at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. By 2005, there were just over 3,000 nests. In the most recent nesting season of 2015, green sea turtles set a new record with 14,152 nests! This comeback makes green turtles one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time. The species’ success can be attributed to the Endangered Species Act, STC and all other supporters who worked tirelessly to give green turtles a fighting chance.
Sea turtles are not the only species that have had huge success stories thanks to the Endangered Species Act. Many species you may encounter on a regular basis in Florida were once on the brink of extinction. In the 1950s, the American alligator had nearly been hunted to extinction, but thanks to habitat protections and strong hunting regulations, their population from North Carolina to Texas has increased to about 5 million. The brown pelican was dramatically impacted by loss of habitat, but under the Endangered Species Act, they have made a strong comeback, and were officially removed from the endangered species list in 2009. Our national bird, the bald eagle, numbered in the hundreds in the 1960s, but with protection and the elimination of the pesticide DDT, which made eggs to fragile to hatch, its numbers have soared to over 14,000 breeding pairs today. The Endangered Species Act protects 1,357 species of animals (694 U.S. species) and 901 species of plants (898 U.S. species), and has prevented their extinction, which in turn helps to maintain healthy and sustainable ecosystems and a healthy planet.
On Endangered Species Day celebrate the Act’s successes and keep the momentum going!
1. Learn about endangered species
The best way to protect endangered species is learning about them and why they’re important. So teach yourself and educate those around you about the value of endangered species and why they are worth saving in their own right. STC’s educational program empowers sea turtle groups throughout Florida, provides educational materials and uses the concept of sea turtle migration tracking as an online educational tool. Learn more about endangered species by visiting the official site of the US Fish and Wildlife Service at www.fws.gov/endangered
2. Visit a national wildlife refuge, park or other open space
These places are home to a lot of different species, and preserving an endangered species’ habitat is essential to protecting the species. You can help by visiting a refuge close to where you live and become a volunteer. The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is a major safe haven for sea turtles. About 25 % of Florida’s sea turtle nesting occurs in the Refuge.
3. Make your home wildlife friendly
Secure garbage in shelters or cans with locking lids and feed pets indoors to avoid attracting wild animals to your home. Taking these actions can keep animals like raccoons, which are sea turtle predators, away. Reduce your use of water in your home and garden so animals that live in or near water can have a better chance of survival. If you live on the beach you can make your home sea turtle friendly by implementing sea turtle lighting.
4. Plant native plants
Native plants provide food and shelter for native animals. You can plant sea oats on the beach to help prevent dune erosion and provide habitat for sea turtle nesting. STC conducts native dune vegetation planting to provide an additional buffer to reduce or eliminate unwanted light on the beach and to enhance nesting habitat at various project sites in the Florida panhandle.
5. Stay away from herbicides and pesticides
Herbicides and pesticides may keep yards looking nice, but they are in fact hazardous pollutants that affect wildlife at many levels. Many herbicides and pesticides take a long time to degrade and build up in soil and throughout the food chain. For alternatives to pesticides, visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org.
6. Slow down when driving
One of the main obstacles for wildlife in developed areas is roads. Animals that live in developed areas navigate in areas full of human hazards and roads present wildlife with a dangerous threat. So when you’re driving, slow down and be on the lookout for wildlife. You should also apply these practices while boating to avoid harming sea turtles and other endangered species in the water.
7. Recycle and buy sustainable products
Recycle anything that can be recycled and buy sustainable products as a simple gift to nature and its species. We love reusable glass straws from Strawesome and snack bags from LunchSkins!
8. Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species
Overseas trips can be exciting and fun, and everyone wants a souvenir. But sometimes the souvenirs are made from species nearing extinction. Avoid supporting the market for illegal wildlife products such as tortoise-shell, ivory and coral. Hawksbill sea turtle shells are often used to be made into sunglasses, jewelry and other trinkets because of their beautiful shell pattern.
9. Stand up for wildlife
Harassing wildlife is cruel and illegal. Harmful behavior such as disturbing and distracting sea turtles is illegal and can be reported by calling any of the numbers listed on our website.
10. Protect wildlife habitat
Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat. Environmental issues such as oil and gas drilling and development result in habitat destruction. Habitats belonging to endangered species should be protected so the impact on endangered species is minimized.
Any effort to help an endangered species is appreciated, so participate and celebrate national Endangered Species Day on May 20th, 2016!
The Barrier Island Center, nestled in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, Florida, is bringing back the Eco-Explorers Summer Camps program in 2016. The camps run throughout the month of June and are offered to children ages 9 to 15.
Participants will enjoy unforgettable experiences, from snorkeling to explore life below the ocean surface and kayaking and paddle boarding to observe first-hand the diversity of life on the Indian River Lagoon, to surfing to further connect with the very beach that attracts more nesting sea turtles than virtually any place on Earth.
Each session offered will cost $325 and includes transportation, certified aquatic instructors, equipment, t-shirt, a year-long Sea Turtle Conservancy honorary e-membership and a complimentary guided sea turtle walk with preferred reservation! To enroll, complete and fax THIS FORM to 321-952-3207. You may then call 321-723-3556 to make your payment. For more information, visit our website. Enrollment is limited to 13 per week and spots fill up quickly! For questions, please email email@example.com We hope to see you there!
Join Sea Turtle Conservancy for the second annual Cuba Sea Turtle Expedition! STC is partnering with the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program, The Ocean Foundation and Holbrook Travel to offer a Sea Turtle and Cultural Expedition to Cuba from June 25th – July 3rd, 2016.
Participants will visit Havana, the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and Vinales over the course of the expedition. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ITINERARY
Participants will have the opportunity to look for turtles coming ashore on the beaches of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and observe the nesting process.
The group will return to a turtle nesting beach the following day to document any tracks from the previous night.
Hours later, participants will return to the turtle beach where they will have the opportunity to help the researchers measure the turtles and record data.
The beaches of the Guanahacabibes National Park are home to the second largest breeding population of green sea turtles in Cuba with an average of more than 300 nests per season.
2013 was a record year for the park’s beaches with nearly 900 nests recorded!
Through the efforts of University of Havana’s Center for Marine Investigations, an estimated 14,000 hatchlings were saved. You will get to participate directly in this successful Cuban conservation program, with a portion of your trip fees going directly to support this ongoing work.
Watch below to see STCs Cuba expedition from last year:
Cost includes gratuities, Miami/Tampa hotel and donations to the Cuban Society for the Protection of the Environment and Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Cost does not include international airfare estimated at $575 from Miami or Tampa (estimate includes visa fee).
The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s Helping Sea Turtles Survive specialty license plate, recently awarded $311,649.72 to 24 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2016-2017 grant funding cycle.
Each year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational and research institutions and nonprofit groups through a competitive application process. The sea turtle specialty license plate is also the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program.
The following organizations received grants for their approved projects for the 2016-2017 cycle:
The sea turtle plate is the number two overall selling specialty tag in Florida, and the number one environmental specialty plate. By purchasing the sea turtle specialty license plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save endangered sea turtles and their habitats.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, please visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.
**UPDATE: CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED LATER THIS MONTH!**
July 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Weekend at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies. To celebrate, STC and the Four Seasons are welcoming turtle lovers to join the Sea Turtle Art Contest!
For a chance to win a three-night stay at the Resort, artists and conservationists are invited to submit an original artistic design depicting sea turtles through the Resort’s Facebook page.
One design will be selected based on creativity, turtle imagery and simplicity, and the winner, along with a guest, will be flown to Nevis to partake in Four Seasons Resort Nevis’ Sea Turtle Weekend, July 15-18, 2016. Along with a weekend-long, sea turtle-themed program, you also will help scientists track, catch, tag and release these majestic creatures. The winning design will also be placed on T-shirts, and all profits will go to the Sea Turtle Conservancy to continue to raise awareness for the protection and education of sea turtles.
The deadline to enter is March 31st. Entries will be judged on creativity, turtle imagery, and simplicity. For more details, and to enter, use this link: http://shout.lt/bsNMd
For questions about the contest, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
**UPDATE: CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED LATER THIS MONTH!**
Since 1959, STC has been conducting conservation programs in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Tortuguero is one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in the world. This means that vital sea turtle nesting research is conducted by our staff in Tortuguero. However, the staff housing building, the Kontiki, could no longer withstand the harsh climate.
For Giving Tuesday 2014 and World Sea Turtle Day 2015 we held a campaign to raise money to rebuild the Kontiki. Between our Members’ donations and generous contributions from Naked Turtle Rum and the Lisa Jo Randgaard family, we raised enough money to begin a rebuild of the Kontiki! The rebuilt Kontiki will be dedicated in honor of Lisa Jo Randgaard.
As you may notice in the photos, we are trying to save as much material as we can from the old house to keep this project sustainable. STC would like to give a big thank you to all our donors for helping us begin this project, we couldn’t have done it with out you! The new and improved Kontiki will keep our researchers safe while they continue vital sea turtle research. Check back and stay tuned for more updates on the progress of the Kontiki!
Learn more about the Kontiki project here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM0tbA5k5a4
And follow STC Tortuguero on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeaTurtleConservancyTortuguero/?fref=ts
Sea Turtle Conservancy is proud to announce the release of a series of short videos about sea level rise and the need to protect Florida’s beaches in an era of rising seas. The video series, Ahead of the Tide, was produced in partnership with the nonprofit organization CAVU.
Sea level rise will have serious and long term impacts to the state’s sea turtle nesting beaches. Our hope is that this series of short, powerful films will help to serve as a Call to Action for all Floridians to demand that our elected leaders, government agencies and coastal communities begin planning for sea level rise in order to protect Florida’s most valuable asset — its natural sandy beaches — both for sea turtles and for people. Below is Chapter One – Florida’s Lifeblood.
Sea Turtle Conservancy believes many specific actions can be taken and policies implemented to reduce the impacts of sea level rise and climate change on sea turtle nesting beaches while also helping to protect our beaches and to ensure coastal resiliency. Most importantly we have to start making the right and smart decisions now. Of the hundreds of pages that make up Florida’s coastal development and beach management laws there is no mention of sea level rise despite the fact that Florida’s beaches are ground zero for impacts. We hope these videos will help raise awareness and empower citizens to demand that our elected officials take action. The state’s beaches belong to all Floridians; they define our state.
You can sign up to be alerted when future chapters of this series are released by visiting Aheadofthetide.org.
It is with a heavy heart that STC shares the news that longtime sea turtle conservationist Larry Ogren has passed away. Larry Ogren studied biology at the University of Florida under Archie Carr in the 1950s. He was one of Archie’s first graduate research assistants and accompanied Archie on some of his earliest trips to Tortuguero. In fact, when Archie set up the sea turtle tagging program in Tortuguero, it was Larry who stayed behind, in the field, to run the program when Archie returned to Florida. This field work led to some of the earliest and most important published papers on sea turtle ecology and migrations, which Larry co-authored with Dr. Carr.
In 1956, the first year of sea turtle tagging, Dr. Carr accompanied Larry to Tortuguero, where he left him alone to carry out the work. There was no research station and nothing but an open air hut to sleep in. As Archie left Larry on the beach that year, he left him with these parting words (as told by Larry), “Now you know it’s hot as hell down here; you’ll get sand in your britches walking the beach, and you’ll get bored to death. If you do, just go into town and have a beer. Take a break, because it’s going to be a long, wet summer. See you in a few months.”
And with that encouraging send-off, Larry’s adventures in Tortuguero began. And for anyone who has ever spoken with Larry about those years, there was plenty of adventure, like the time he was flying over the Yucatan in Mexico on a Navy plane as part of Operation Green Turtle, which was an attempt coordinated by Sea Turtle Conservancy (known then as Caribbean Conservation Corporation) in partnership with the Navy to start new green turtle nesting colonies by releasing hatchlings at beaches around the Caribbean. They were flying at night in a horrible storm and quickly running out of gas. The weather was socked in and they couldn’t find the airport. The pilot thought they were going to crash until he spotted headlights on a road below, which could be either coming from or going to the airport. He made a 50-50 guess that happened to be right; they found the runway just before having to ditch the plane.
After completing numerous seasons in the field with CCC, Larry went on to a very successful career with the National Marine Fisheries Service, where he played a prominent role in stimulating global interest in sea turtle conservation. His efforts led to the funding of the first systematic study of sea turtles in the Atlantic, the results from which were presented at the Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium, which Larry organized. That symposium was the first international conference focused on sea turtles that involved elected officials and natural resource managers from around the Atlantic and Caribbean. The symposium helped stimulate turtle protection regulations in countries around the region that previously had no laws protecting sea turtles. Also through his work with Fisheries Service, Larry helped push through the first regulations requiring the use of Turtle Excluder Devices on shrimp trawls in the U.S., regulations that undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of sea turtles. Larry served for many years as a member of CCC’s Board of Directors and continued to guide the organization as a member of STC’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
Like Dr. Carr before him, Larry Ogren was a lifelong champion of sea turtle conservation. A few years back, STC established an award to honor individuals, who, like Archie Carr, had dedicated a substantial part of their lives to the cause of sea turtle research and protection. Larry Ogren is one of just four people to be awarded the “Archie Carr Lifetime Achievement Award,” which he was presented in New York in 2009 as STC celebrated its 50th anniversary.
In 2013, Larry worked with writer Anne Ake to publish the book “Turning Turtles in Tortuguero: Stories from the Origins of Sea Turtle Conservation,” a wonderful and humorous look back at Larry’s experiences working with STC and Archie Carr in the earliest days of sea turtle conservation – work that helped inspire the global movement to protect sea turtles.
Larry was a trailblazer, a one-of-a-kind naturalist, conservationist and human being. He was a friend to many in the sea turtle conservation community and he will be missed dearly.
The Randgaard family has been engaged actively in fundraising at STC since 2013, when they established The Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund to honor their beloved daughter and sister who passed away suddenly at age 43 in May 2012 from complications of her congenital heart condition. It is the first member-initiated endowment fund in STC’s 56-year history. Lisa’s sister, Linda, explains the family’s motivation to focus on fundraising for sea turtles with their handmade soap line, ‘Flippery When Wet.’
Q: Why did you decide to make soaps to benefit your sister’s named endowment fund?
A: Lisa was a devoted animal activist, especially when it came to endangered sea turtles, and she was a creative artist. Soaps were one of her favorite things to make for family and friends. Mom, Diane and I decided this was a fitting way to generate funds for a cause so very near and dear to Lisa’s heart. Our family covers all costs to make and ship our Flippery When Wet soaps, ensuring that 100% of all donations go to Lisa’s Fund.
Q: How did it go the first year?
A: Beyond our expectations! Over 400 soap bars have shipped since we launched the soap line last year, and we hope for another great holiday season to help us exceed $70,000 in principal gifts to Lisa’s Fund. Since it is an endowment fund, these wonderful donations will continue to support sea turtles in perpetuity.
Q: What kind of soaps do you make?
A: Lisa’s sister, Diane, is our soap maker and each small batch of soap makes 32 unique bars. The process from batching to shipping takes a total of four weeks, including curing time. She uses only pure essential oils (not artificial fragrances) along with sustainable palm oil, organic coconut oil and other nourishing skin oils. We never use animal products in any of our soaps since animal protection is our priority. With a minimum donation of $45 for 4 bars that includes shipping and handling, people can choose from Citrus, Lavender-Litsea, Lemongrass, Rosemary-Mint and our brand new Sea Clay! The soaps are very gentle on the skin and the oils create an amazing aromatherapy experience for users.
Q: How can people get your soaps?
A: Visit LoveIntoSustainedAction.com, our family’s website devoted to fundraising for Lisa’s Fund. Donors will be directed to STC’s website to make their donation to The Lisa Jo Randgaard Fund; they will then complete our online order form to select their soap bars, both quantity and scents. We have had people make gifts for up to 20 bars of our soap. The generosity from across the country has been very comforting and uplifting to our family since we chose to direct our grief into something positive. This holiday, we hope to raise $2,000 or more by January 1, 2016.
Q: Is there a deadline if people want to give your soaps as holiday gifts?
A: Soaps take two weeks to ship and we encourage people to order as soon as possible to ensure that they receive them in time for holiday giving. Shipping and handling are included in the donation levels outlined on our website. Holiday orders should be received by Friday, December 11. On behalf of my family and me, I would like to extend deep gratitude for the extraordinary support we have received from the Sea Turtle Conservancy Community. Your hearts are as big as the ocean, and we are humbled by your kindness.
The holidays are near, which means it’s time to celebrate generosity and give! On December 1, 2015 Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) will be participating for a third time in #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday provides one day to make a BIG difference!
STC needs your help on this special day to support the Barrier Island Center (BIC)! The BIC, located in Melbourne, FL in the heart of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, is an education and outreach center which provides free or low-cost programs to visitors, local schools and community members.
These programs help to educate the public about the important eco-systems of the barrier island, wetlands, and lagoon. These areas provide vital nesting and foraging habitat for sea turtles. Since the BIC opened in 2008 over 245,000 adults and children have been able to learn through hands-on activities such as Eco-Explorers summer camps, oyster mat making, sand dune planting, and much more.
Unfortunately, the BIC recently learned it would not be receiving an annual grant of $15,000 to help fund education programs and other operating costs.
Join the movement and help STC continue it’s efforts to further these educational programs.
Can we count you in for #GivingTuesday? Help us reach our $15,000 goal! Click here to participate!
Since 2000, when Sea Turtle Conservancy waged a successful campaign to block a proposal by the Cuban government to reopen international trade of sea turtle products, STC has been trying to build collaborative relationships with Cuban sea turtle researchers. For example, STC facilitated the participation of two Cuban biologists in the International Sea Turtle Symposium. We included several young Cuban biologists as turtle Research Assistants in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, where they gained valuable field experience. And in Bermuda, a biology student from Cuba was sponsored to participate in a course offered by STC and our partners that teaches in-water techniques for studying sea turtles. Despite these efforts to build relations in Cuba, STC’s ability to directly participation in turtle research or conservation in Cuba has been stymied by longstanding restrictions against American travel to the country…until now.
As widely reported in the news, President Obama recently took steps to improve diplomatic relations with Cuba. The U.S. Embassy in Havana has reopened, and the State Department announced new guidelines making it easier for American citizens to travel to Cuba by participating in authorized “People to People” programs. Immediately following this announcement, STC partnered with the Ocean Foundation and Holbrook Travel to organize a turtle research and cultural exchange expedition to Cuba that would meet the new qualifications and allow STC to explore opportunities for collaborating with sea turtle researchers in one of Cuba’s most pristine national parks. Once our trip was approved by the State Department, STC officially opened registration to members and supporters, and all 20 spaces were filled rapidly.
STC’s first expedition to Cuba took place over eight days in September. Leading the expedition were STC Executive Director David Godfrey and Scientific Director Dr. Emma Harrison. Also participating in the trip were an enthusiastic mix of STC donors, Florida turtle volunteers, scuba divers from around the US and even the UK, an architect, and even a turtle conservationist from Hawaii. During our journey through Cuba we interacted with the amazing and friendly people of Cuba; discovered a diverse and rapidly-changing culture; explored pristine natural resources; marveled at cities, cars and architecture preserved for a generation; learned about an explosion of urban-based organic farming; and, of course, observed a unique population of sea turtles nesting on Cuba’s far western shore. To say the trip was amazing is an understatement; it was unforgettable.
Cuba hosts regionally-important nesting populations of hawksbills and green turtles. In addition, many nesting beaches and marine habitats around Cuba are in near-pristine condition and are ripe for long-term sea turtle research and recovery. During the course of the expedition, STC forged a strong new relationship with Cuban biologist Dr. Julia Azanza, who leads the turtle research project at Guanahacabibes National Park. Based on our interactions with Dr. Azanza, STC hopes to achieve a new era of support for sea turtle conservation in Cuba. Plans already are in the works for a return trip in 2016, when we hope to assist in the deployment of satellite transmitters on several nesting green turtles. Anyone interested in joining the 2016 expedition should contact David Godfrey at email@example.com to inquire about reserving a spot. Like this year’s expedition, spaces will fill up quickly.
Cuba Expedition Travel Journal by Dr. Emma Harrison
STC was met at the Havana airport by a dedicated local guide and bus driver, who remained with our group throughout the 8-day expedition. Our assigned guide was the lovely and knowledgeable local guide, Susana Rodriguez, who STC hopes to book for future visits. For the first couple of nights our base was the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which overlooks the ‘Malacón’ – the iconic waterfront walkway that is a popular hangout for local residents. Our diverse program of activities commenced with a guided tour of an organic farm, where we learned about sustainable urban agricultural that is blossoming in suburbs of Havana and other cities around Cuba. Lunch on our first full day was at a family-run ‘paladar’ in Cojima and included a variety of traditional dishes, Cuban coffee, of course, and mojitos! Most businesses in Cuba are owned and operated by the government. However, over the last year restrictions have eased in the operation of private restaurants, or “paladars,” which tend to have a much higher variety and quality of food.
The main reason for STC’s trip was to visit and provide assistance to the sea turtle project run by Cuban biologist Dr. Julia Azanza, with the long-term goal of developing a partnership through which STC can support sea turtle research and recovery in Cuba. Dr. Azansa joined our group in Havana to give a thorough presentation about her work and the current status of turtle conservation in Cuba.
After our brief exploration of Havana we boarded our bus and began a rather eventful journey to Guanahacabibes National Park in the westernmost part of the island. Less than half way to our destination we unfortunately blew a tire, and had to creep slowly several miles to the Cuban equivalent of a rest area. We only had to wait an hour or so before a replacement bus picked us up and we were able to finish the remainder of our journey. Our trusty bus driver, Juan Carlos, however, had to wait another 5 hours before he was able to fix the tire and make his way to the hotel with our assigned bus.
The following morning we got our first look at the nesting beach in Guanahacabibes, which resembled a lunar landscape due to all of the deep body pits characteristic of the green turtles—the main species nesting in this part of Cuba. Dr. Azanza introduced us to the student volunteers who live in rustic conditions (in tents, with no electricity or running water!) for several weeks at a time while they conduct track surveys and night patrols to collect valuable scientific data for the p about the green turtles nesting at this site. We learned that a green turtle nest had hatched the previous night and were able to participate in a nest excavation to assess hatching success. Fortunately, the majority of hatchlings had made it safely from the nest to the ocean.
Cuba’s marine environment is very pristine, as we witnessed first-hand during snorkel trips to coral reefs that were just offshore from our hotel in Maria la Gorda. While we didn’t happen to see any turtles while in the water, we did enjoy crystal clear blue water, beautiful reefs and a fantastic diversity of fish species.
During our evenings of turtle patrolling we were fortunate enough to encounter a green turtle that came ashore to lay her eggs during the two nights we were on the beach. We also had the great fortune of observing the emergence of a nest of green turtle hatchlings! For some in our group this was the first time that they had seen either baby turtles or a nesting female, and to have that first up-close and personal experience on a remote beach in a Cuban National Park made it all the more memorable for everyone, even for those of us who have seen it innumerable times before.
Among the other highlights of our trip was a visit to a tobacco farmer in the agricultural region of Viñales—a dramatic and lush valley in Cuba’s interior that produces tobacco for some of Cuba’s most famous cigar brands. Sitting in the farmer’s kitchen and watching him expertly roll a cigar using tobacco grown in the surrounding fields was another unique experience. Most in the group could not pass up the opportunity to sample a hand-rolled Cuban cigar made directly at the source.
An unexpected change of hotel meant that we got to spend a night in Pinar del Río, on the very day when the region was celebrating its 128th anniversary! Our unplanned change in itinerary turned into an amazing opportunity to watch a street parade and meet numerous local characters who were thrilled to find a group of American’s staying in their village. In fact, it was common throughout our travels around Cuba to encounter people who were genuinely overjoyed to meet Americans. To a person, everyone we met in Cuba was incredibly friendly and helpful.
The days passed quickly and all too soon we found ourselves heading back to Havana for our last night in Cuba, but not before one last whirlwind of cultural experiences. The STC group spent half a day exploring Ernest Hemingway’s farm, Finca La Vigia, which has been miraculously preserved by the Cuban people and is still filled with Hemingway’s personal possessions, clothes, artwork, book, and even his famed boat “Pilar.” Later that night our group was taken to see the famous Opera de la Calle, a talented company of Cuban singers, dancers and musicians that treated STC to a private performance none in our group will ever forget.
Of course, no trip to Cuba would be complete without a little drama, and ours came in the form of multiple power outages as we were waiting in line to go through immigration to leave the country. Each time the power went out the computer system had to be reset, eating up valuable time when we should have all been heading to the gate! Gradually, at less than a turtle’s pace, each member of our group managed to make it through and we all boarded the plane, with just minutes to spare before takeoff. Of course, we learned later that this is a common occurrence and the American Airlines flight crew knows to wait for all passengers to clear security during such delays.
This was definitely a memorable trip for everyone, and one that STC will be repeating in the future. We are excited about the possibility of forging a collaborative relationship with sea turtle conservationists in Cuba, to give our members an opportunity to visit this incredible country and support a local project working to protect the region’s turtle populations!
Plastics have become a staple of modern societies across the globe. In 2012, nearly 300 million tons of new plastic items were produced. Each day, these and other plastic articles are sold, used, and disposed. However, an alarming amount of these plastics do not stay on land. Through improper disposal or direct dumping, millions of tons of plastic now call our ocean home.
According to recent studies, including a paper in the prestigious journal Science, we are facing a dire future:
As organizations committed to ocean and human health, the mounting body of science makes us increasingly concerned about the growing tide of plastics entering the ocean and its negative impacts on marine wildlife and habitats.
We’re calling on industry to work with us to stop plastic from entering the ocean.
The signees of this letter represent a diverse array of NGO stakeholders from around the world asking industry and fellow NGOs to stand by us to help stop plastics from entering the ocean. By working together, we can develop innovative solutions, including integrated waste management, at a global scale that will reduce plastic leakage from land and keep our ocean and communities vibrant and healthy.
Please join us.
Learn more at http://www.plasticpreventionletter.org/
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) would like to give a special congratulations to the winners of our 2016 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar Contest! All of the photos were truly phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter!
The winning photographs will be featured in STC’s 2016 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar, which will be available online in our gift shop in November—just in time for the holidays! Thank you to all of our participants who made this year’s selection exciting and especially difficult. If you missed out on this one, look out for the 2017 photography contest next summer!
Here are the winners:
By: Kevin Pursley
Green turtles in formation, Cliff Bonaire
By: Angelica Arroyo
Olive Ridley hatchling, Tierra Colorada, Guerrero
By: Karla Morales
Leatherback sea turtle, Dorado, Puerto Rico
By: Ben Hicks
Green sea turtle, Boca Raton, Florida
By: Adhith Swaminathan
Leatherback hatchling, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, India
By: Adhith Swaminathan
Olive Ridley, Rushikulya, Orissa, India
By: Julie Suess
Hawksbill sea turtle, Turks & Caicos
By: Vince Lamb
Green sea turtle, Melbourne Beach, Florida
By: Karla Georgina Barrientos Munoz
Hawksbill hatchling, Mona Island, Puerto Rico
By: Karla Georgina Barrientos Munoz
Olive Ridley, Nancite Beach, Costa Rica
By: Ursula Dubrick
Leatherback hatchling, Melbourne Beach, Florida
By: Ben Hicks
Green sea turtle, Boca Raton, Florida
By: Karla Morales
Leatherback sea turtle, Dorado, Puerto Rico