From Shock to Taking Stock: Celebrating 50 years of Successful Sea Turtle Conservation

Date: November 2, 2009
Contact: Rocio Johnson
 (352) 373-6441

On a stormy night more than 50 years ago, Dr. Archie Carr stood on a remote Caribbean beach awaiting the arrival of the legendary fleets of green turtles he was told returned each summer to nest at Tortuguero, Costa Rica. A zoologist from the University of Florida, Dr. Carr was one of the first scientists to systematically study these ancient marine reptiles and learn about threats to their survival. What he found at Tortuguero would both shock and inspire him. Large numbers of green turtles still nested, but the numbers were dwindling fast at the hands of turtle hunters who took nearly every turtle that came ashore.

Archie wrote about his findings in his award-winning book The Windward Road, which alerted the world to the plight of sea turtles. His book was a call to action to save a species that had outlived the dinosaurs, but which was on the verge of being wiped out due to ravenous human consumption. The Windward Road also inspired the formation of the world’s first organization dedicated to the study and protection of sea turtles—the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC). Founded in 1959, the CCC turns 50 this year and is celebrating a half-century of successful sea turtle conservation.

To mark this milestone, CCC is hosting a 50th Anniversary Gala at the Harvard Club of New York on November 12, 2009. The event will feature guest speakers Dr. Archie Carr, III and Dr. David Ehrenfeld and the presentation of the 2009 Archie Carr Lifetime Achievement Award to Larry Ogren, one of Dr. Carr’s first graduate students and a major contributor to the enactment of laws and regulations protecting sea turtles. Limited tickets are available: www.conserveturtles.org/gala.

Today, CCC’s research, conservation and education programs extend from Florida and the eastern seaboard of the United States to Central America and the Caribbean. As a leader in sea turtle conservation, CCC’s major accomplishments include long-term research on key nesting beaches and foraging grounds; permanent protection of critical habitat; coastal policy initiatives in Florida and elsewhere; and landmark education programs.

David Godfrey, CCC’s Executive Director, notes “CCC’s unique niche was created by Dr. Carr and sustained by those who have followed in his footsteps. We have maintained the longest running data base for sea turtles in the world, trained generations of sea turtle biologists and conservationists, and incorporated capacity building, eco-tourism and social science into our work long before they became conservation buzz words.”

Today at Tortuguero, CCC carries out one of the longest continuous monitoring and protection programs for any species of wildlife. This work in Costa Rica led to the establishment of Tortuguero National Park in 1975 to provide permanent protection for the nesting beach. Over the years, community and government leaders have united with CCC toward the common goal of protecting and restoring Tortuguero’s sea turtle populations. CCC has helped the community of Tortuguero replace the consumptive use of sea turtles with a thriving economy based on sea turtle tourism. Since the 1950s, green turtle nesting at Tortuguero has increased by 500%, making this population the largest colony in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian honored CCC’s achievements by recognizing its Tortuguero program as one of the great marine conservation success stories.

In 2003, CCC launched a research and protection program at Chiriquí Beach, Panama—the most important nesting site for endangered leatherback and hawksbill turtles in Central America. Working closely with the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé community, CCC collects nesting data and works to reduce threats affecting sea turtles. In just a few years, leatherback and hawksbill nesting has increased, nest survivorship has improved, and illegal turtle fishing has declined.

In Bermuda, CCC works with the Bermuda Aquarium and researchers Drs. Anne and Peter Meylan on a long-term, in-water study of juvenile green turtles from around the Caribbean. This 40-year-long research program is the longest of its kind in the world and continues to yield important information about sea turtle genetics, growth rates, migration and sex ratios.

In Florida, CCC worked to establish the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, home to the second largest loggerhead nesting population in the world. In partnership with Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, CCC helps operate the Barrier Island Center — a state-of-the-art environmental education center in the Refuge.

In 1995, CCC initiated the successful campaign to establish the Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate in Florida. The turtle tag is now the top selling conservation tag in the state, generating nearly $2 million each year. It is the primary funding source for Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Program and also supports the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program. Administered by CCC, the grants program awards over $350,000 annually in Florida.

CCC remains actively engaged in the most critical issues affecting sea turtles. Earlier this year, CCC joined several other groups in filing a legal challenge to halt the killing of thousands of loggerhead turtles that are caught by commercial long-line fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. CCC also leads a long-term campaign to reform coastal management policies that fail to protect sea turtles from unwise coastal development and sea wall construction on nesting beaches.

CCC’s education programs are creative and fun and inspire people everywhere to learn and care about sea turtles. In 1996 CCC was the first organization to provide public access via its website to real-time tracking of turtles outfitted with satellite transmitters. Another successful education program is the “Tour de Turtles”—an online event based on the satellite-tracked migrations of turtles released simultaneously at different nesting sites around Florida and the Caribbean. The program is free for anyone with Internet access and is available at www.tourdeturtles.org.

Archie Carr once wrote, “You cannot argue the case for saving any wilderness on the grounds of practicality alone. If this difficult saving is to be done, it will be because man is the creature who preserves things that stir him. This work will take staunch people.” After 50 years of successful sea turtle conservation, CCC and its supporters continue to staunchly protect sea turtles so that they remain a wild and thriving part of our natural world.

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High quality images can be found in our online Press Room: http://media.conserveturtles.org

The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy's work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website at www.conserveturtles.org or call (800) 678-7853.