Monday, February 18, 2008

SEE turtles, a conservation solution

You need to hear about SEE Turtles. This is a great story. It has everything:

-compelling science adventure
-charismatic leading man
-fishermen that kill sea turtles
-and a minor role for me, learning a good lesson

Once the science mystery is solved, we find where sea turtles go to forage and die. It's an area off the coast of Baja California, near a small fishing village. The turtle killing needs to stop if we want sea turtles to avoid going extinct.

But then the story gets really interesting because something unusual happens. Once the conservation problem was identified, the people killing the turtles became part of the solution. The turtle conservationists and the fishermen got together and built a solution. J. and his colleagues began an effort to save the turtles and help the fishermen. And the fishermen have turned into turtle savers.

Now you can go on a vacation to see turtles in the ocean, on trips led by fishermen who used to catch and kill sea turtles in their fishing gear. They're creating a safe area for the turtles, they've changed their fishing to protect turtles, and now they guide turtle watching trips. And...the turtles have some fierce new protectors.

Ocean Conservancy has created a sea turtle ecotourism program in this area, where tourists will pay the fishermen and their families and neighbors as guides, hoteliers, restaurateurs, etc., proving that the turtles are worth more alive than dead.

As for me, I have a minor role in this drama, but it's not all that flattering. Part of the money to pay for the resarch came from the Hawaii longline fishing fleet. Fishermen paying for turtle research in another part of the world, how did that happen?

I was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that resulted in a shutdown of the Hawaii longline fishery based on killing sea turtles. The longliners convened a very strange "settlement negotiation" and proposed mitigation money for turtle conservation if they got to fish more. I had seen a lot of bad mitigation projects, so I said no deal.

Well, the Hawaiian fishing industry did get to go fishing again soon, and they did spend some money on research anyway, and some of the money went to my new colleage, J Nichols. The mitigation money paid for J's research that found turtles migrating to a hotspot off the Baja coast to forage. A small artesanal fishery in the area happened to fish in the turtle hotspot and a handful of fishermen in small boats killed more turtles each year than the 100 plus boats in the industrial Hawaii longline fleet.

I learned an important lesson from this example. I was skeptical of the value of the mitigation money, but it turned out money well spent. After I met J, he assured me the Hawaiian longliners mitigation money helped turtle conservation.

It's hard to recongize a good deal sometimes, but now I know I have to look everywhere. Saying no to people just because they're the "bad guys" might mean missing a chance to do good. Now, for me, everyone is a potential partner, even the largest retailer on earth. I can learn.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Sounds like a win-win situation. Sometimes those are hard to come by. I see how this relates back to our discussion. Now, what if the turtle killing fisherman felt that turtle hunting were an integral part of their culture? Should they be allowed to continue killing turtles, stopped legally, or some other option?

I don't think there is a comfortable answer to these questions sometimes. Of course every time there is a victory like this one, it's a good thing.

And I absolutely agree that we should be looking for win-win situations, and evaluating the relationships between various peoples and the sea as well as examining the sea itself when we make our efforts in conservation.