Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism For Shark Conservation
When many people hear the words “shark” and “tourism” in the same sentence, the first thing they think of is how to avoid them. Unfortunately these people are missing the opportunity to witness and learn about one of nature’s truly astounding creatures. While shark attacks are real and many movies and media outlets capitalize on this fear (see Channel, Discovery), there are common sense ways to avoid danger and have a great experience while contributing to shark conservation efforts.
The real predator
According to the conservation group Oceana, an average of 4 people per year were killed by sharks and only 3 fatal attacks in the US from 2006 – 2010 (out of 179 total). Beachgoers are more than 3 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark attack. Compare that to the more than 25 million sharks killed by humans each year, and it becomes clear who is more dangerous.
Sharks, as top predators, are critically important to the health of the ocean. One of the biggest issues why many shark species are endangered is due to the international trade in shark fins, used as a delicacy in shark fin soup, consumed primarily in Asia. According to Shark Advocates International, they are also valued for their meat, hides, teeth, and livers. Due to the facts that sharks grow slowly, take a long time to reproduce, and give birth to small numbers of offspring, these fish are especially susceptible to human threats.
Tourism as a conservation tool
One strategy to help protect and research sharks that is gaining popularity is ecotourism. A recent study of sharks around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island estimated the value of a hammerhead shark to tourism at US $1.6 million each, compared to just under $200 it could bring if sold. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science had an even more dramatic difference, estimating a lifetime value of nearly US $2 million dollars for a reef shark in Palau vs. only $108 for sale in a fish market. Governments are starting to take notice of this economic value; countries including Australia, Palau, and the Cook Islands have recently created large new marine protected areas to protect sharks and other ocean life.
While diving to see sharks has its abstract value, many tour operators and volunteer organizations are taking advantage of shark tourism to directly benefit conservation. SEEtheWILD partner Sea Turtle Restoration Project has a unique trip for divers to the Cocos Island where people can help to tag hammerheads as part of a research program. In Belize, Earthwatch Institute has a volunteer program in Belize to study shark populations and the value of marine protected areas.
Another way that travelers can support shark research is by participating in the Whale Shark Photo ID Library. Anyone with underwater photos of whale sharks can upload them to this website for identification, helping to build this important resource for conservation efforts. Finally, some shark trips generate donations for conservation efforts, including this whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres (Mexico).
Playing it safe
For those who get sweaty at the mention of sharks, there are many ways to keep yourself safe when in the water with sharks. The easiest way to do that is to swim with the least threatening of sharks, the whale sharks. Though these giant fish can be 40 feet long and weigh 20 tons, they don’t have teeth and are not aggressive to humans. Also, by remaining calm around sharks and keeping your distance, you can minimize the risk of being around these fascinating creatures. If you are diving or snorkeling in areas where sharks live, ask your guide about what to expect and what species to look out for.
Check out SEEtheWILD’s shark conservation tours and volunteer programs:
Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website. To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation. Follow SEEtheWILD on Facebook or Twitter.
Sea Otters at a Crossroads
“We have learned that if we are to preserve a healthy population of these small animals, if the tap-tapping of the sea otter is to remain an inspiring motif along our shores, it will demand more than foresight. It will require vision.” –Margaret Owings, Founder, Friends of the Sea Otter.
This year Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) celebrates its 45th year of sea otter conservation. Throughout the history of the organization, FSO has dealt with many critical issues facing sea otters on their road to population recovery. Now is no different.
In California, “The No Otter Zone” is the primary focus. This issue, a two and half decade attempt to section a part of the ocean in southern California that excludes sea otters, is an ongoing effort. In January 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rendered a final decision to eliminate the “No-Otter Zone”, allowing sea otters to expand their range naturally into historically occupied waters they inhabited. This aims to help recover the population of sea otters in California. Prior to this FWS decision, a team of expert scientists had concluded that sea otters need to expand their range naturally into these areas to recover the population and not jeopardize its future existence.
In July 2013, a coalition of fishing groups filed a lawsuit that seeks to challenge the decision to end the “No-Otter Zone”. Friends of the Sea Otter, along with other conservation groups, and the representation of EarthJustice, have filed a motion to intervene in the case so that we may defend the decision by FWS. Throughout the years, FSO has used the judicial system to uphold protections for sea otters. And, we will do so again in order to protect sea otters.
Up north in Alaska, a very different situation is unfolding. The state of Alaska, its fishing industry, and elected officials are trying to turn back the clock on marine mammal conservation more than 40 years by advocating for the management of sea otters. How are they suggesting they do this? Their answer: by killing sea otters for the sake of small commercial interest groups.
All sea otters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This makes it illegal to hunt a sea otter or sell any products made from the body of a sea otter, unless the sea otter is harvested by an Alaskan Native for subsistence purposes. Alaskan Natives must sufficiently alter a sea otter pelt into some kind of traditional artifact or handicraft before selling anything made from a sea otter. It is currently illegal for anyone, including Alaskan Natives, to sell unaltered sea otter pelts to non-Alaskan Natives.
FWS has a proposal to clarify some terms under the MMPA and Friends of the Sea Otter is focusing on their clarification of “significantly altered”. The proposed revised definition for “significantly altered” raises some serious concerns. The definition of “significantly altered” is too broad and at odds with the MMPA and is being conducted without any environmental impact analysis. It isn’t as restrictive as it needs to be and could potentially result in blankets and rugs being made from sea otter pelts without “significantly altering” the pelt as is the intention of the MMPA. This would be devastating for sea otters.
In addition, this revision of the definition for “significantly altered” is being carried out under the pressure from fishing groups, who are under the impression that the sea otter population in Southeast Alaska is destroying fisheries. Equal pressure is mounting from state elected officials and the federal Alaska delegation to do something about a “growing” sea otter population. Open season on sea otters in Southeast Alaska could greatly impact the species and set a disturbing precedent. It would allow an increase in the hunting of a wildlife species in an effort to manage and protect industry, which in this case would be fisheries.
Join Friends of the Sea Otter
This is a critical time in sea otter conservation. FSO is determined to take on these issues and ensure the protection of the sea otter at all costs so that the future of these populations is around for people to delight in.
Article by guest blogger, Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director and Frank Reynolds, Program Manager for Friends of the Sea Otter
Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO), founded in 1968, is an advocacy group dedicated to actively working with state and federal agencies, scientists, educators, and the public to maintain, increase and broaden the current protections for the sea otter, a species currently protected by state and federal laws and having two populations on the Endangered Species list.
#OtterESC for Sea Otter Awareness Week
Love sea otters as much as we do? Join Endangered Species Chocolate on Twitter during Sea Otter Awareness Week (Sept 22-28, 2013) to help generate a donation for Friends of the Sea Otter! Each tweet containing the image below and hashtag #OtterESC adds $1 to Endangered Species Chocolate’s $500 donation goal.
Join people around the planet celebrate and honor the body of water which links us all! Visit World Oceans Day’s website to find an event in your area to connect you to saving the sea. Or set off on your own to make a difference; 5 Ways You Can Protect the Ocean, written by Brad Nahill, Co-Founder of SEE Turtles, can get you started Want more ways to help? Check out our post on ways you can protect the ocean while on your next beach visit.
Photo by Abigail Alling / Biosphere Foundation
Message from our friend, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, co-founder of SEETurtles, SEEtheWILD and LiVBLUE.
The sea turtles need your help! Six of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered and facing possible extinction. This week we’re kicking off Billion Baby Turtles, a project aimed at reversing this alarming trend and saving sea turtles.
Even if you don’t have time to read this entire post, please take a minute to visit, “like” and share our new Facebook page, where you can also enter to win an amazing prize pack of gear and goodies from sustainable brands including ENO Hammocks, Endangered Species Chocolate, Feelgoodz, Hydro Flask, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Nature’s Path/EnviroKidz, Numi Tea, NUUN, Osprey Packs, prAna, and Tofurky. Enter here.
Now, a little bit more about the sea turtles and what we’re up to with Billion Baby Turtles…
If you’ve watched Animal Planet you know that odds are generally working against sea turtles. From the moment an egg is deposited in a sandy nest on a tropical beach, to the first time a baby turtle touches the sea, to decades later when she returns as an adult to lay her own eggs on very same beach, life is an endless series of life-and-death challenges for a sea turtle.
Nature is stacked against survival, which is why a mother turtle lays thousands of eggs during her lifetime in order to simply replace herself. Predators include dozens of species of crabs, beetles, ants, birds, fish, and sharks. Jaguars, pigs, wild dogs, and raccoons are even on the list of turtle eaters.
For millions of years, sea turtles handled it all just fine.
Yet, when you add modern humans to the mix, the balance suddenly tipped towards oblivion. Over the past century all seven species of sea turtle and their eggs have been hunted, carved, and eaten to the point that many populations are considered vulnerable to extinction. Getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and on hooks just adds to their woes. Throw in plastic pollution, boat collisions, and runaway coastal development on their nesting beaches and you’ve got a situation requiring intervention on a global scale.
But this isn’t a bad news story. That’s because over the past several decades a massive global network of sea turtle scientists, advocates, conservationists, and even lawyers has evolved to work day and night to bring them back. These heroes have been literally working around the clock, saving one egg-—one baby turtle-—at a time. At other times they’ll invest months to rehabilitate a single adult animal before returning it to the ocean. Every turtle released into the ocean is a moment of joy for everyone involved. It never gets old.
These projects are run on “Turtle Time.” Slow, steady, and tenacious wins the race. It takes as long as twenty-five years for a turtle to reach maturity, and return on that turtle-y kind of investment can come slowly. Turtle people are above all patient and hard working. Many projects have been steadily protecting turtles for more than thirty years. Their work is paying off. Some turtle populations are now on the rise after nose-diving to near extinction before that.
Photo by Neil Ever Osborne / SEEturtles.org
The Black Sea Turtle Project in Michoacan, Mexico celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year and is experiencing its best season since its inception after watching the numbers of nesting female turtles bounce along the bottom of the graph for a decade.
Its sister project, Grupo Tortuguero, working to safeguard black turtles in feeding grounds a thousand miles away in Baja, is turning fifteen in January.
Turtle hunters and poachers in Mexico have had a change of heart and are now turtle protectors and guides. Everyone reports seeing more sea turtles in the ocean and on the beaches.
Now is not the time to let up, though. To get sea turtles back to their former abundance and to restore their ecological role in the ocean this is just half time.
We know exactly what to do. We just need to continue to execute the game plan.
Along with my friends Brad Nahill at SEEtheWILD and Fabien Cousteau at Plant a Fish, we came up with the idea of the Billion Baby Turtles, an initiative to help support groups working on the sea turtle front lines. To make a million more adult turtles we need a billion more baby turtles. It’s a one in a thousand situation out there, roughly speaking.
By creatively connecting individuals and small businesses with grassroots projects working to increase sea turtle production, we are helping overcome donor fatigue, burn out, and other second half challenges.
In the coming years we will collaborate widely to further expand the global sea turtle tribe, widen the base of donors through micro-philanthropy, and throw our support behind the men and women working for turtles on the front lines in their coastal communities around the world.
Forty years ago sea turtle pioneer, Dr. Archie Carr, described what it would take to save sea turtles.
In the long run, marine turtles, like the seas themselves, will be saved only by wholehearted international cooperation at the government level. While waiting for it to materialize, the critical tactical needs seem to me to be three in number: more sanctuaries, more research, and a concerted effort by all impractical, visionary, starry-eyed, and anti-progressive organizations, all little old ladies in tennis shoes, and all persons able to see beyond the ends of their noses…
That is almost legendary substance.
While high-level official negotiations continue, and the large agencies and organizations fight for pro-ocean and pro-turtle policies, why don’t we all do our small part for sea turtles?
A billion baby sea turtles?
Why don’t YOU lead one to the water?
Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, author and dad. He works to inspire a deeper connection with nature, sometimes simply by walking and talking, other times through writing or images. He is co-founder of SEE Turtles, SEEtheWILD, & LiVBLUE among other organizations.
Support Billion Baby Turtles Project…
…when you purchase an Endangered Species Chocolate Save the Sea Turtle Gift Pack. Each gift includes three sustainably sourced Dark Chocolate with Blueberries Bars and a $10 donation to Billion Baby Turtles, a gift that helps 10 turtle hatchlings get safely to the sea!
Did you know that 6 out of 7 species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered? Sadly, they face many dangers as they travel the seas – including accidental capture in fishing gear, loss of nesting and feeding sites, intentional hunting (poaching) and ocean pollution.
Follow our guest blogger, Brad Nahill, Director and Co-Founder of conservation non-profit SEEtheWILD, as he sets off to make a difference! His journey has him teamed up with some of the world’s leading conservationists to learn all they can about sea turtles and the threats they face. Gathering new knowledge is vital in determining the best course of action to save these endangered creatures of the sea.
From the Field: Travels to El Salvador and Nicaragua
Summer in Portland, Oregon is wonderful. Warm sunny days blend gradually into crisp nights even at the height of summer, a perfect climate to explore the Columbia Gorge, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast. So why am I giving up two weeks of my hometown’s best weather to visit the hot, rainy, and buggy coastal areas of El Salvador and Nicaragua?
When you get the opportunity to tag along with some of the world’s leading turtle conservationists to put satellite tags on possibly the planet’s most endangered sea turtles, you say yes and start looking at airfares. Over ten days, I will travel with a small, diverse group of people to visit four key sea turtle habitats in two countries. We will put transmitters on turtles at three of the sites, attend turtle festivals, and meet local residents working to support conservation programs.
Despite having worked in sea turtle conservation for most of the past decade, this trip will be a series of firsts for me. First time working with transmitters, first time to both of these countries, and the next wild hawksbill I see will only be the second of my career. I will be sharing these experiences with blog posts, images, and more in the hopes of educating people about the threats that sea turtles face in this region and how people can participate in their conservation.
A few of the inspiring people I’ll be meeting up with include Alex & Ingrid Gaos, the driving force behind the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, one of the most hopeful turtle conservation stories out there; Jose Urteaga of Flora and Fauna International, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and one of Nicaragua’s leaders in turtle conservation; and Dr. Jeff Seminoff, director of Marine Turtle Research at the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA. Others include Randall Arauz, recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Prize and founder of Pretoma, a leading wildlife organization in Costa Rica; Enriqueta Ramirez, founder of VivAzul and one of El Salvador’s leading young turtle conservationists; and Liza Gonzalez, current Nicaragua Director for Paso Pacifico and former director of the Nicaragua protected area system.
Some researchers believe the hawksbill turtles of this region are the most endangered in the world. A network of people are working to bring these turtles back from the brink while at the same time providing opportunities for improving the lives of coastal residents near turtle hotspots. I’ll be writing about how these hawksbills have chosen mangroves over coral reefs (unlike the rest of their species around the world) and about innovative programs that are providing optimism for the future of turtles in the region. I hope you will join me on this exploration to learn about one of the world’s most charismatic and endangered animals.
…to be continued.
Read the next post from Brad’s conservation trip, On a Mission.
Brad Nahill is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website. To date, we have generated more than $300,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation.
5 Ways That You Can Help Protect the Ocean
World Ocean Day is June 8th and what better way to celebrate than by helping to protect the ocean and the creatures that call it home? Most of the news we hear these days about the ocean is bad; giant islands of trash, sharks being killed for their fins, and more. But there is still hope to save the oceans and everyone can help no matter how far you live from a coast.
1. USE LESS PLASTIC
Many people have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch out north of Hawaii; not many people know that all five of the world’s oceans have currents (called “gyres”) that collect plastic waste. This waste endangers sea turtles, birds, seals, and other wildlife.
How to help: First, avoid plastic whenever possible. You can support local bans on plastic bags (congratulations, Los Angeles)) and take the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Pledge to refuse disposable plastic. You can also volunteer in the International Coastal Cleanup and help keep trash out of the oceans.
2. EAT LESS FISH OR MORE SUSTAINABLE FISH
Many of the world’s major fish stocks are overfished and collapsing. This is more than a food issue; these fish make the marine food web survive and many coastal communities depend on the industry. The good news is that there are alternatives for those who don’t want to completely give up seafood.
How to help: First, avoid the most damaging seafood such as shrimp. In some places, fishermen catch up to 10 lbs. of other fish and animals for every pound of shrimp. Also, print out a Seafood Watch Guide or download their smart phone app that tells you which fish are being caught sustainably and which ones can have high levels of toxins.
3. USE YOUR VOICE (OR YOUR EMAIL)
There are many opportunities to speak up for ocean conservation. For example, you can participate in the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s campaign to enforce the use of turtle excluder devises on shrimp boats in Louisiana by emailing your Senator. You can also speak up for a strong National Ocean Policy here.
4. VOLUNTEER WITH A SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION PROJECT
Ever wanted to see what the life of a marine biologist is like? Our SEE Turtles project helps connect volunteers with sea turtle conservation programs in Latin America at no charge. Patrol a turtle nesting beach, helping measure and tag sea turtles and move their eggs to a protected hatchery. Volunteers pay from $15-50 per day for food and lodging, which is a critical source of income for many small projects.
5. TAKE AN OCEAN WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TOUR
SEEtheWILD is the world’s first non-profit wildlife conservation travel project and our website promotes tours where you can get up close to ocean wildlife including sea turtles, sharks, and whales. Every trip benefits conservation programs through donations, education, and volunteer opportunities.
BONUS ACTION: SHARE A BLUE MARBLE
The Blue Marbles Project is a simple experiment in showing gratitude for the ocean. Millions of these marbles are passing around the planet, from hand to hand. The premise is simple, give a marble to someone doing good things for the ocean. Pick up some marbles here and share the stories of the people you give them to on Facebook.
- Brad Nahill
Guest blogger, Brad Nahill is Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, a wildlife conservation travel project. He launched SEE Turtles, a sea turtle conservation travel project with Dr. Wallace J. Nichols that has generated more than $300,000 in support for community-based turtle conservation projects in Latin America.
Photo image by Hitchster via Flickr Creative Commons
With summer here, my mind has turned to planning our annual family beach trip. Images of building sandcastles, splashing in the surf and long walks on the beach fill my daydreams as I count down the days till vacation. As a mom of a nature-embracing little boy, I aim to pass along ways to play and explore the beach that make sure this fragile ecosystem is protected from his well-meaning, oh-so-curious hands.
LOOK AND RELEASE
It’s fun (and educational) to scoop crabs and other sea creatures into a bucket to observe. Just keep in mind that these guys need water to breathe. Even with water in your bucket, a crab will only last 20 minutes before it begins to suffocate. Look – then let them go.
DON’T ROCK IT!
Wondrous discoveries can be made by looking under rocks in tide pools. Just be sure to lift rocks straight up (so you don’t accidentally crush critters hiding underneath) and replace the rocks gently, leaving them as you found them. Many beach creatures find cool, moist homes under rocks, logs and seaweed. If you move or take their home. they might not survive. Check out this video for a rock lifting demonstration.
CLINGING FOR A REASON
Starfish, mussels and other clingy creatures survive waves and predators by hanging tightly to rocks and wharf pilings. If picked off a rock or perch, they rarely survive.
DUNES ARE SENSITIVE
Use dune walk-overs and designated beach access points to cross dunes. This fights erosion by protecting the plants that hold the dunes in place. Dunes are also a popular spot for sea turtle nests and should not be disturbed.
What am I missing? Share other ways we can protect and preserve beaches by leaving a comment below.
Better late than never
My mind is continously wrapped around chocolate and species conservation. It’s my job and I love it. And you’d THINK that I’d be totally keyed in to all the conservation-minded holidays out there – but they always sneak up on me. Usually, I become aware of these obscure observances the day after the fact. Like World Water Day (March 22) and International Migratory Bird Day (May 14). And wouldn’t you know it – World Turtle Day was May 23rd. I’ve given up too many good writing ideas for fear of being untimely. Watch me now as I bravely and belatedly post about World Turtle Day!
Soft spot for hard-shelled creatures
Turtles and tortoises have been around for more than 200 million years. They obviously are creatures that are meant to stand the test of time. However, over the past 20 years, almost 50% of all turtle species have been listed as threatened. And six out of seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered. Since learning these deporable facts, I aim to seek out ways to help.
SEE Turtles saves sea turtles
Combining conservation tourism and volunteerism, SEE Turtles works in Costa Rica, Baja California Sur and Trinidad – vital nessting habitats for endangered sea turtles – to support community-based turtle protection efforts.
You can get involved in a small, meaningful way by purchasing Endangered Species Chocolate’s Save the Sea Turtle Gift Pack. Or you can go big and plan an adventure vacation with SEE Turtles and have a hands on sea turtle saving experience!
Be aware of baby turtles
The U.S. Humane Society urges people to beware of fairs, carnivals, flea markets and pet shops that sell baby turtles. In 1975, FDA’s Public Health and Services Act banned the sale/distribution of turtles less than four inches in length. Despite the ban, baby turtles continue to be sold – an illegal practice that is destructive to both turtles and humans. A practice I recently witnessed at a tourist shop while on a beach getaway weekend. You can bet when I return to the beach this month, I am going to be asking the store owner some hard questions and reporting them. Click here to learn how to report these types of violations to the FDA.
Many turtle species are declining due to the pet trade. Children often lose interest in pet animals obtained on impulse and parents may not be prepared to care for a turtle who can live for decades and grow to be a foot long. Turtles need proper light and temperature, a water filtration system and room to grow. Countless pet turtles die from being kept in inadequate conditions.
Humans, especially young children, are also put at risk by close contact with pet turtles. A major Salmonella outbreak in 2007 that sickened 107 people (mostly children) in 37 states was attributed to pet turtles.
World Turtle Day
May is a busy time for turtles (yes, yes…I know it is now JUNE!). Many have recently emerged from winter hibernation and are beginning their search for mates and nesting areas. May 23rd was designated World Turtle Day in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue. The day is used to highlight the threats to turtles’ survival and educate about what we can do to protect these quiet creatures. Just like this post, caring and spreading the word is better late than never.
Share your turtle stories! Join me in celebrating a belated World Turtle Day by commenting below.
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