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Aboriginal dancers and Queensland environmental minister join Australian sea turtle expert Colin Limpus in opening 29th international symposium

Sea turtle biologists, advocates, beach monitors, and experts from around the world were officially welcomed tonight along the banks of the Brisbane River to the 29th International Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology. Traditional landowners from a local dance troupe clacked sticks and pounded their feet down in ancient moves while a didgeridoo player sounded a circular drone. Several hundred people watched from the Piazza, a large concrete amphitheatre in the humid night air. STRP’s Western Pacific campaigner Wences Magun arrived last night, so he joined me at the uplifting outdoor celebration of the sea turtles.

For many of us, this was not the beginning of the symposium, but the third day of presentations, talks, meetings and greeting with sea turtles at the center all the while. We started on Saturday with Pacific Island people explaining new sea turtle protection efforts on remote tropical islands where in some places indigenous communities still use sea turtle eggs and meat. The message I heard was that the success of any conservation effort where turtles are a means of survival must include the people who live near the beaches. Long gone are the days where top-down efforts are seen as a viable path. The leaders in the Pacific Island sea turtle conservation community have produced a plan of action to protect sea turtles across national boundaries beginning with projects to count nests and sea turtles and monitor beaches — often for the first time.

The Western Pacific leatherback sea turtle was center stage on the second day. The critically endangered sea turtle is declining through its range. In the Southeast Asian region, protections and information about the declines are only now beginning to emerge. Sea turtle scientists are viewing the totality of the leatherback populations scattered from Australia to Indonesia and east through the Pacific Islands as one “meta-population” that migrates south, west and north. Perhaps as many as 4,000 to 5,000 adult females are breeding in this region, but even that is hardly a safe and sound population, particularly when you realize that Atlantic leatherback populations number in the tens of thousands.

The hope is that new protections at the beaches will slow the march toward extinction — though for some fisheries agencies it seems the primary goal is to protect more sea turtles so that more may be sacrificed in longline fisheries for swordfish and tuna.. At STRP we are working for the long-term survival of the Pacific leatherback and an unemcumbered ocean where they can swim free forever.

I’ll write more soon on the fascinating Australian flatback sea turtle and collaborative efforts in the tropical north to keep them thriving in the face of industrial port projeccts, predation from non-native animals, beach erosion and hunting by subsistence communities.California based-Chevron wants to build a major new LNG processing plant and port smack on significant flatback beaches in Northwest Australia’s Pilbara region. Yes, people do . . .

Today, STRP co-hosted a lunchtime disucssion on ports, shipping and sea turtles attended by about 25 people concerned about industrial developments along nesting beaches and in foraging habitat from Australia to India to Malaysia to California and Florida. More on that later, too!