My name is Courtney Kramer. I have been the Education Intern at Sea Turtle Conservancy for a little over a year now. I’m in my freshman year at the University of Florida, majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Nonprofit Organizational Leadership. As STC’s Education Intern, I manage the AdvoKids program, which is a program dedicated to get youth involved in sea turtle and ocean conservation.
I’m always interested in learning about new ways to get young people excited about conservation and the environment, which is why I was thrilled when I got the chance to attend an environmental conference called Power Shift in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania several weeks ago.
Power Shift brought together a group of passionate, active youth in an effort to support the environment. The thought of a conference typically produces images of stuffy wealthy men in a suit and tie. This particular “conference,” however, was more than its connotation: it was a gathering, a union. It was inspiration, networking, passion and enthusiasm all for the environment.
I left October 17th, a Thursday evening on a bus with 47 other college students from the University of Florida, Florida Atlantic University and University of North Florida. You can imagine a bus full of young hippies can make for a pretty interesting ride. After 17 hours of guitar songs, 2 cranky bus drivers, beautiful scenery, pita bread and a quick stop at IHOP, we finally arrived Friday afternoon in a city with 7,000 congregated new people, mostly youth, from across the nation.
We started the event with a number of speakers from all over the world, both young and old. Some were leaders of well-recognized organizations while others had been directly impacted when their hometown was devastated by environmental catastrophes such as mountain top removal. One particular speaker was a 12-year-old girl indigenous to the Sliammon First Nation. She explained that many of the customs her family were once able to practice, she now cannot practice anymore because of environmental destruction. Her presence alone was full of passion, professionalism and sincerity, and captivated the audience.
The next day was a career fair composed of a number of organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenpeace, as well as smaller organizations and clubs such as IDEAS (Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions). I was able to network with a number of people who played a large role within organizations, such as the President of the EPA.
On Monday, over a thousand people from Power Shift walked the streets holding signs to protest fracking and raise awareness about the importance of clean energy development and a “just economy.” Fracking occurs when fossil fuels are extracted out of mountains and natural gas is released. When this happens, the surrounding areas become contaminated; this includes the local people’s drinking water. Many people passing by on the street would come up to me and ask what was going on. It was amazing to see just how much curiosity and awareness this event created.
Throughout my trip, I met so many new and interesting people. Some of them I hope to make life-long friends. I am grateful to have met so many determined, amazing young people who are driven with the same passion as I.
It is this same inspiration that Power Shift has shown me, I hope to show other young people. The planet needs to be protected. It is only with the next generation’s help that this is possible. I hope to teach our future generation the importance of protecting our planet, including its beautiful oceans. The work that STC does not only supports sea turtles, but other marine life. For example, STC supports “sea-turtle-friendly” fishing nets and practices. These nets and practices often affect other sea creatures such as dolphins, sting rays and coral. Efforts that children can participate in to protect sea turtles have many direct influences on the health of the ocean. Such efforts include hosting a clean-up, educating the public or raising money in support of sea turtle and ocean conservation organizations. In order to have a more sustainable future, we need to involve our youngest generation now! For more ideas on how to get involved, stay tuned for upcoming information about the new AdvoKids page or check out the Get Involved section on our website: /involved.php?page=actions
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) believes that community involvement and buy-in are among the most important components to ensuring the success of long-term conservation efforts. Recent events near one of our field sites in Panama showed us that by involving the local communities in their own conservation efforts, we have helped spread a much wider conservation movement, one that stretches beyond sea turtles to other endangered species… like sloths!
But what exactly do sea turtles have to do with sloths?
Since 2003, STC has worked to protect sea turtles at different critical nesting sites in the Bocas del Toro Province of Panama. Most of the local communities historically depended on these turtles as a staple of food or income. STC has worked to educate and involve local communities in monitoring, research and tourism ventures, investing in sustainable livelihoods.
While the beaches of Bocas del Toro are important nesting sites for endangered leatherback and hawksbills, the mangroves of a nearby island are home to the incredibly rare pygmy three-toed sloth. This species of sloth is found nowhere else in the world and there are only 79 documented sloths remaining. This species is classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.
On September 9, STC’s field staff in Bocas del Toro were contacted to help settle a situation at the local airport. Local community members were trying to prevent eight of these incredibly rare sloths from being removed from the wild and shipped to private zoos in the U.S. and Panama City. Six were to be taken to the Dallas World Aquarium (DWA) and two to a zoo in Panama City.
DWA claimed that bringing the sloths to the zoo was part of an ongoing conservation project. They were going to attempt captive breeding and then reintroduce the sloths bred in captivity back into the wild. While this might sound like a great idea, removing 10% of the remaining wild population could actually have serious repercussions on the already small gene pool and previous attempts of reintroducing sloths into the wild have not yielded much success.
The community was furious at this attempt to remove a local natural resource and demanded the sloths be returned to their natural habitat. This passionate reaction from the community showed a significant shift in local attitudes about wildlife conservation. Not long ago the local communities might have seen the sloth as commonplace or a source of food. Now the community was taking action to protect the endangered species.
The protest put pressure on authorities to detain the flight that was meant to take the sloths to Panama City. The community demanded that if DWA wanted to perform research on the sloths, that they do so in situ “as the turtle people do.” STC’s work in the region was highlighted as an appropriate example for onsite conservation and research with little intervention while involving the community.
A DWA representative finally announced they would not export the sloths. On September 10, STC field staff loaded the sloths on their boat along with a group of local citizens and representatives of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The group helped the sloths climb back into the branches of the mangroves they call home.
This sloth incident was an indicator of the growing environmental ethic spreading through Bocas del Toro, highlighting the power of communities to protect and advocate for the appropriate use of their natural resources. It was a vibrant reminder of the importance of involving communities in conservation efforts. STC is pleased to see that the impact of its conservation efforts has moved beyond sea turtles, providing community-based conservation models that can be replicated in the region to protect other endangered species.
If you’d like to watch more videos of STC staff releasing these sloths back into the wild, head to our YouTube page! For a more detailed story on the sloth saga, stay tuned for the next issue of STC’s newsletter, The Velador, which will be sent out later this fall.