This past week sea turtle researchers and conservationists from around the globe flocked to Baltimore, Maryland for the 33rd Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation hosted every year by the International Sea Turtle Society (ISTS). This event combines different disciplines and cultures with a common goal of protecting sea turtles.
The theme of this year’s symposium was “Connections” which seems appropriate as sea turtles unknowingly connect us all. They connect the ocean to the land, they connect people to the ocean they call their home, they rally people to protect beaches they lay their eggs on, and most importantly they connect scientists and sea turtle fanatics from around the globe. The symposium not only included research talks, discussions and debates but focused on community outreach, opening the doors to the public to share information about sea turtles found in the Chesapeake Bay and environmental issues effecting the watershed.
We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wallace J Nichols, AKA J,(left) a passionate scientist, activist, community organizer, author and dad, about the event. His achievements include a myriad of published scientific papers, founding/codirecting Ocean Revolution, SEE the WILD, and LIVBlue among many other things. With an interest in the innovative and emerging field of neroconservation, he hopes to change the way scientists communicate with the public to more effectively protect our planet for the future!
SUFB:What was your role in the 33rd Annual International Sea Turtle Symposium?
J: I’m a past President and board member of the ISTS, but still play lots of small roles with the society and at the symposium. But this is the kind of conference where the majority of people attending take up some volunteer effort or other to make it all work. That one quality of our society that gives our symposia a bit of a family reunion feeling. Everybody pulls together.
This year, our president, Dr. Ray Carthy, chose “Connections” as the theme. It was brilliant as throughout the week all the ways sea turtles connect ocean and terrestrial ecosystems, connect people to nature and connect us to each other were repeatedly highlighted.
J: I had the pleasure to meet with and speak at length with the people supporting the sea turtle project in Tecolutla, Veracruz, Mexico. A group of volunteers from Philadelphia who have fallen in love with sea turtles and the people who protect them in Mexico and do everything they can to support this particular project. You can find out more about them and see a short film about Fernando “Papa Tortuga” Manzano.
The truth is that these days there are literally thousands of projects around the world working quietly and tirelessly, day and night, over the span of decades to make sure our future includes plenty of sea turtles. Every time I stop and think on that a bit I get deeply inspired.
SUFB:Favorite part of event?
J: Hugging my fellow turtle geeks.
And saying “see you in New Orleans next year”, knowing I will.
SUFB:Did you learn anything new?
J: This year the symposium invited Dr. Elena Mustakova Possardt to speak and lead a workshop on emotional resilience. It was a tremendous addition to the ISTS and quite overdue. Conservation work can be heavy, stressful and thankless for long stretches. That causes stress and burnout. If we who work on the front lines as a voice for the ocean burn out, that’s bad. We need to stay strong, be resilient. Neuropsychology offers some insights into how to do that. I think ALL conservation meetings should include this neuroconservation theme at some level.
SUFB:With your research on neuroconservation, I would like to know your take on the Ray Lewis ad for Visa and corresponding article in Sports illustrated.
J: My plan is to get Ray Lewis out on the beach with his family and put some baby turtles in their hands, snorkel with sea turtles, walk the beach at night and show them some nesting female turtles and add a tribal turtle tattoo to his collection. I’ll let you know how that goes!
SUFB: What can you tell our readers about the take home message of the symposium?
J: Our President, Ray Carthy, did a fantastic job this year. He chose a great theme that resonated for scientists, conservationists and volunteers. This year there were more hugs than usual, and as a result more oxytocin. The neurochemical that promotes connections in humans (and egg laying in turtles). So, for me the take home message was the reminder that we should be sure oxytocin is in our conservation toolbox.
SUFB:What is your best advice for a young scientist looking to get into the field of Sea Turtle Conservation?
J: We did a “speed chatting” session again this year where scientists with a few years under their belts get to chat with students and others with questions or ideas to share. The overwhelming sense I got from those few dozen short conversations is that young scientists are looking to do work that matters.
The advice I gave all revolved around connecting with the people, not just the sea turtles, that you work near. Whether they are shrimpers in Louisiana or coastal residents in Costa Rica. Also the importance of staying, committing and working for a decade in a place and with specific people if you hope to experience the fruits of your work. The academic/esearch system isn’t really designed to do that, with the normal cycles of grants and degree-getting, so it takes some assertive effort.
SUFB:What can the average person do to help save the Sea Turtles?
J: There are no average people. And everyone is connected to the ocean, wherever they are. The ocean is downstream of our entire economy. Other than that, I really don’t like to answer this question. If you’ve read this far, you probably already know what you can do for sea turtles. Do it.
Overall it seems the symposium was a great reunion for the turtle geeks of the world, filled with hugs, sharing of information, strategy and even emotional hardships. After reading an article about the previous years symposium (written by a first timer) it seems turtle conservationists are a tight knit global community with one mission, save the sea turtles! Surely a symposium that should not be passed up in the future if you conduct sea turtle research, volunteer work, activism, conservationism or just plain love sea turtles!
Do you have any questions about Sea Turtles and their protection/what you can do to help? Feel free to share them in our comments section and we will do our best to answer them! Chances are you aren’t the only one with that question!