Dear President Bush:
Thanksgiving is here and I'm sure you are thankful for your wonderful family. I would like to suggest a way you could thank your father for his courage and leadership.
When President George H. W. Bush was in the White House, he faced many complex problems, as all presidents do. One that was particularly troubling involved the deaths of thousands of sea turtles drowning in shrimp trawls and the need for the shrimp industry to install turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in their nets. (The TED provides an escape hatch for smaller species, which include the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, which is critically endangered.)
After years of efforts to get shrimpers to use TEDs voluntarily, the Commerce Department issued regulations to require their use in 1989. Numerous protests were held, including a blockade of the Houston Ship Channel by shrimp boats. Then-Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher tried to intervene on behalf of the shrimp industry but finally withdrew in the face of scientific findings and unrelenting public pressure. Shrimp boat captains were ordered to start using TEDs.
Of course, your father was dealing with many other serious issues, such as protecting the Panama Canal and overthrowing the corrupt regime of General Manuel Noriega. He rallied the support of the United Nations, the American people and Congress and sent 425,000 American troops to the Middle East to rout the army of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
But, despite the many other pressing matters, the TED issue was settled while your father was in the White House. As a result, thousands of sea turtles now swim freely in the Gulf of Mexico and in U.S. coastal waters. The conservation community remembers his tenure with gratitude.
As you know, back in Houston and retired from politics, your parents continue their careers dedicated to education, service and philanthropy. Your father and former President Bill Clinton raised millions for tsunami victims and those struggling to overcome Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike. They attend fundraisers for good causes on a regular basis when they aren't visiting the Bush Library at College Station.
My suggestion for you will be an unforgettable Thanksgiving tribute to your father. After all, without the implementation of TEDs on shrimp trawls when he was in the White House, this small Gulf of Mexico sea turtle would probably be extinct by now or very close to it. Please establish the George H.W. Bush Marine National Monument at the Padre Island National Seashore, where the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle is nesting with greater numbers every year.
The Padre Island National Seashore is unique. It is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world with 149 species of fish and 380 species of birds. The island is rich in history, having been occupied by four different nations, and is now making international scientific history as more and more Kemp's ridley sea turtles go there to nest each year. (Last year of 195 nests found on the Texas coast, 93 were found at the National Seashore.)
What a fitting tribute it would be for your father for you to recognize the courage and leadership he showed to prevent the extinction of a marine animal that is part of the Texas natural heritage. The Padre Island National Seashore Web site describes the island as "70 miles of sand-and-shell beaches, picturesque windswept dunes, seemingly endless grasslands, tidal flats teeming with life and warm near-shore waters."
Declaring the Bush Marine National Monument at the Padre Island National Seashore, where history continues to be made with the recovery of an endangered sea turtle, would honor both you and your father.
Allen is Gulf office director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and founded HEART (Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles) in 1982.