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Workshop Report

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Sea Turtle Conservation in Charlotteville

Organizers: Adana Mahase-Gibson & Keith Gibson

“Who knew sea turtles were so connected? We tend to look at local issues affecting the turtles when they are on our beach – overharvesting, beach erosion, lack of enforcement of laws etc. We sometimes forget that saving that nesting beach is just one part of the turtles’ story, and of ours.”

From Charlotteville, Tobago, where a group of representatives of environmental NGOs and eco-tourism businesses met to discuss sea turtle conservation, we received a very detailed and interesting account of the Pyramid workshop, that we would like to present here in full.

“The main outcome of our workshop was to see sea turtle conservation as a ‘capstone’ at the top of a wider environmental pyramid of sustainability issues in our country. The Pyramid process provided additional justification for ongoing projects and has inspired us to consider several new projects in our respective organisations.”


Level 1

“As wide-ranging animals that use both terrestrial and marine environments, sea turtles are influenced by local, regional and global trends from all four Compass points, for better and for worse. Our discussion ranged just as widely but we eventually settled on a series of trends that we loosely assigned to the four Compass points.

On the society face of the pyramid, we identified recent legislation that was passed to ban the hunting of turtles in Trinidad and Tobago, an increase in marine traffic, international trawling, and continuing local exploitation of turtles (including laying turtles, nests and turtles in the sea) as important influences. Our evidence for these is a combination of empirical, anecdotal and direct observations.

In the nature category, the most important trend is obviously the decrease in sea turtle numbers, globally and locally, both nesting and in the water. There was some discussion as to the strength of the empirical evidence for this trend locally but we agreed that there is observational and anecdotal evidence. Other trends we identified in the nature category were beach erosion and the changing nature of coastal substrate (from sand to less suitable nesting substrate such as pebbles or rocks), and global changes in ocean currents and temperatures and magnetic signals all of which will influence the range of sea turtles in ways that are hard to predict.

On the economy side, we discussed the price of turtle meat and its consumption locally. We agreed, based on observational and anecdotal evidence that both of these have remained pretty stable and will probably continue, in spite of the recent change in legislation. We also discussed how increased coastal development affects nesting habitat by taking up beach space, increasing lights on beaches, and increasing human traffic on beaches at night. Lastly, we discussed the importance of increased international fishing pressure in Trinidad and Tobago waters. Our evidence for the latter two points draws on some quantitative data, but is largely observational and anecdotal.”

Level 2

“We split into two groups (ladies and gentlemen) to tackle this level of the pyramid. We did not have time to follow up on each of the trends from Level 1, so each group selected several trends they felt were important.

In both groups, asking ‘why’ launched interesting discussions. The ladies used a more structured approach, beginning with the central challenge and moving backwards by listing several trends, then several further trends that could explain those trends, and so on. They also ‘drilled down’ by looking at effects and impacts. Many themes emerged from their discussion but we’ve selected two to focus on. The first was the emotional reaction that turtles can inspire in those who encounter them (in response both to their beauty in the water or laying eggs, and their suffering when encountered dead or dying). The second was the complacency and heritage traditions that condone unregulated harvesting and destructive international fishing practices. The flip-chart sheet diagramming their discussion was sensible, organised, and colourful.

The gentlemen used a less structured approach to discuss the causes and impacts of first, the 2011 change in national legislation and second, the emotional impact living turtles can have. Both discussions identified financial incentives as an important driving trend and also illustrated the highly networked nature of both sea turtles themselves, and their plight. For example, the central challenge connects to an international demand (from the Asian market) for fish, and to local pride in cultural traditions. Unfortunately, the gentlemen’s diagrams were neither as coherent, nor as colourful as those of the ladies.

On reassembling, we settled on a series of important drivers for the central challenge. These included the emotional impact of living turtles, nostalgia and traditions, the influence of international fisheries, coastal development and beach erosion, financial incentives and advocacy.”

Level 3

“Members of our group are already taking part in projects to address the central challenge, however, based on the discussion at levels 1 and 2, we came up with even more ideas.

We agreed that advocacy is important. Active advocacy at the national level contributed to the change in legislation and we feel that such advocacy should continue. Eco-tourism is often looked to as an alternative, sustainable way for locals to benefit financially from sea turtles. This addresses both the need for financial incentives and the emotional impact living turtles can have on us (both of which were discussed at level 2). There are excellent precedents in Trinidad and Tobago and some of our group members are already involved in just such a project.

We discussed several other ideas. A turtle festival at either the beginning or the end of the laying season could welcome sea turtles to our shores, or wish them well in their travels. The festival would emphasise the story of sea turtles and how they represent the health of, and threats to, the coastal and ocean environments that we all share and rely on. We discussed the possibility of an ‘adopt a turtle’ programme which has been used to good effect elsewhere, using a GPS tracking device to follow a turtle on its journey. Lastly, we talked about a documentary that would use sea turtles to tell the ‘whole’ story of the threatened environments we share (beaches, coastal waters and open ocean). ”

Level 4

“We agreed that the Turtle Festival and a documentary would be the best choices to proceed with. We did not have time to discuss the details of how these projects would be implemented, however, given that a monitoring, awareness and eco-tourism project is already being implemented, and that the individuals in our group represent many of the more dynamic implementing organisations in the area, we all feel confident that we have a few exciting new seeds to plant, and some good soil in which they could very well grow.”

Level 5

Our capstone agreement is to promote our two chosen ideas in our various organisations and networks.

Conclusions

“The atmosphere during our workshop was fun. Many of the group members have worked together before, and we had a good time sharing ideas and jokes (more of the former than the latter fortunately). The pyramid itself helped give a focus to the discussion and the process. We were impressed that such a potentially confusing and complicated process could proceed so ‘naturally’.

The physical pyramid helped us focus the discussion and the process. With an experienced group of practitioners who have been through many workshops, the pyramid helped us keep the discussion alive and interesting. We (the organisers) knew it would be useful, but we were surprised to see just HOW helpful a physical three-dimensional model was for clarifying both the process and the ideas.

We had some difficulty moving smoothly from Level 2 (why is it happening) to Level 3 (what can we do). Although it sounds quite straightforward, we, as a group, struggled to identify points of action that did not seem trivial relative to our wide-ranging discussions at levels 1 and 2. This transition was eased by the genuine ‘ah ha’ moment that some of us had when the pyramid process brought home just how connected our central challenge is to wider environmental issues in our country, and just how fantastic an ambassador sea turtles could be. Put simply, sea turtle conservation isn’t just about sea turtles.

We would like to thank our group members for taking time from their busy schedules to join us and to share their ideas and talents. We all struggle with overwhelming challenges (turtles disappearing, clean water running out) and it’s easy to get down. But as frightening or disheartening as the challenge may be, the up side (and it’s a big one) is working with caring, committed and passionate people. We’d also like to thank the organisers of Pyramid 2012 for making this tool available to the world. It is much appreciated.”

From our side, thank you to the organizers for making this possible!

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