Baltimore was in a celebratory mood when it hosted the 33rd Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation from 2-8 February 2013. Keeping to plan, the Baltimore Ravens football club won the NFL Superbowl XLVII in honour of the international gathering.
Adhering to a traditional formula, the symposium consisted of specialised workshops, oral presentation sessions, poster displays, and various other side meetings and events. The theme of the symposium was “connections”, which aptly describes one of the symposium’s important functions of bringing people together from all corners of the globe.
There were not so many attendees from the IOSEA region – perhaps owing to the long distance, cost of travel and other factors. Nevertheless, the turn-out for the half-day Indian Ocean – South-East Asia regional workshop was quite respectable, considering that the timing coincided with similar gatherings for the Africa, East Asia, and Pacific Islands regions. All in all there were about 25 participants from at least 15 countries of the IOSEA region: Australia, Bangladesh, China, France, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
After a brief introduction by Lalith Ekanayake (Turtle Conservation Project – Sri Lanka), 7-8 invited presentations focused on developments concerning particular areas/activities around the region, followed by a general discussion of important issues relevant to marine turtle conservation.
Teri Shore gave an overview of major LNG projects under development in Australia with significant actual or potential impacts on marine turtles. Jeff Miller previewed an analysis he had nearly completed which hopefully will provide direction for future IOSEA technical support and capacity-building activities. Nick Pilcher presented preliminary results of a multi-year hawksbill satellite tracking project in the Gulf, which revealed fascinating and unexpected insights into the migratory behaviour of the study animals. Alan Rees reported that he had recently assumed the role of regional MTSG Vice-Chair for the Middle East; in that new capacity, he hoped to stimulate closer collaboration with IOSEA.
Creusa ‘Teta’ Hitipeuw gave an update on leatherback turtle conservation in Indonesia, including online campaigns that sought to influence peoples’ consumptive behaviour. Mariana Fuentes reported on a new phase of turtle-climate change research in Australia, which is looking into the adaptive capacity of sea turtles, potential geographical shifts and factors influencing resilience. Whereas earlier work on climate change impacts focused mainly on green turtles, other species (e.g. loggerheads and flatbacks in Western Australia) are also being studied. Shwetal Shah described the work of the Prakruti Nature Club, based in Gujarat, India, which concerns itself with a wide range of wildlife conservation activities.
Andrea Phillott, co-editor of the Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter, appealed for contributions to the twice-yearly publication; and drew attention to an ongoing study documenting turtle hatcheries around the region. Douglas Hykle reported on developments under the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU over the past year, notably the ongoing work related to the IOSEA Site Network, workshops and training activities, and further development of useful tools on the IOSEA website.
In the discussion that followed, several issues were raised of general or specific importance to the conservation of marine turtles in the Indian Ocean, including:
- Ongoing illegal take of turtles in South-East Asian waters (by Chinese fishers) and a relatively new phenomenon of turtles being stockpiled by local collaborators for eventual sale to Chinese buyers;
- Potential for study of sea turtle epibionts and fibropapillomas in the region (topic introduced by Triet Truong);
- Conflicts (and complementarities) between tourism and sea turtle conservation;
- Proliferation of unregulated hatchery operations around the region, as a preferred avenue for ‘demonstrable’ turtle conservation, even in the absence of demonstrated conservation benefit.
The main symposium was divided into a series of sessions dealing with the themes of: Social, Economic and Cultural Studies; In-Water Biology; Conservation, Management and Policy; Fisheries and Threats; Population Biology and Monitoring; and Education, Outreach and Advocacy.
The main themes were echoed in the large poster session that ran throughout the week, and which included informative posters from Bangladesh, France (La Réunion), India, Indonesia, Kenya, Maldives, Oman, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka.
As is typical, the symposium provided ample opportunity for networking in the margins, including catching up with the two IOSEA Advisory Committee members who were present in Baltimore (Jeff Miller and Manjula Tiwari). A side-meeting with Aimee Leslie (WWF) and Marina Antonopoulou (Emirates Wildlife Society – WWF) was especially productive and covered several areas of mutual interest including: governmental responses to illegal turtle trade in South-East Asia; an “Adaptation to Climate Change Toolkit” being revised by WWF for use in Latin America/Caribbean (but of potential interest to the IOSEA region as well); introduction of bycatch reduction technology in India; and ongoing developments with the IOSEA Site Network.
The next International Sea Turtle Symposium will be organised somewhat later in the year (reportedly in April 2014) and in a rather warmer climate (New Orleans), which is sure to attract an even larger gathering of turtle enthusiasts from around the globe.