HOW INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY HELPS TURTLES
Due to their migratory behavior, sea turtles swim through territorial waters under the jurisdiction of multiple countries, defying political and geographic boundaries. This transnational migration has also made them more vulnerable because conservation efforts in other nations may be limited, requiring concerted efforts internationally. For example, turtles around the world are being bought up at an unprecedented pace to meet the insatiable demand for turtle consumption in China. Poachers are pushing into adjacent waters of neighboring countries, in search of sea turtles to satisfy the growing demand. Numerous seizures of hundreds of sea turtles by authorities in Southeast Asia have culminated in high profile international incidents, intensifying territorial disputes in the South China Sea. To reduce multinational tensions and wildlife trafficking, efforts to improve foreign relations have underscored the importance of foreign affairs to the success of sea turtle conservation in the Asia Pacific region. Therefore, Sea Turtles 911 engages in public diplomacy to strengthen international relations so that countries can work together across national borders to save the migratory species.
On June 23, 2015, Sea Turtles 911 was invited to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Washington D.C. to discuss cooperation on protecting and conserving the ocean, and stemming the illegal trade in marine turtles. As a result, the United States Department of State and China’s National Development and Reform Commission, agreed to a U.S.-China EcoPartnership between Sea Turtles 911 and Hainan Normal University. News media coverage on this bilateral cooperation can be found here.
The goal of the Sea Turtles 911-Hainan Normal University EcoPartnership is to restore the endangered sea turtle species to ecological health in the Asia Pacific region. The project conducts conservation research to establish a baseline on existing sea turtle populations. Additionally, the project fosters opportunities in cultural student exchange, ecotourism, and enforcement training, to empower local communities to safeguard the health of our ocean environment. Furthermore, the project works with local officials and other stakeholders to develop action plans to save sea turtles from extinction.
In 2016, U.S. Ambassador and former U.S. Senator Max Baucus released two endangered sea turtles to freedom in the South China Sea. The rescued sea turtles were held captive at an aquaculture farm in Hainan Island for the past eight years. The turtles' health had been declining due to nutritional deficiencies commonly suffered by marine turtles kept in long-term captivity. With support from the U.S. State Department, Sea Turtles 911 was able to successfully negotiate for the turtles' release back into the wild upon being nursed back to health at Hainan Normal University. To assist in the turtles' release, U.S. Ambassador Baucus was joined by U.S. Consul General Bennett. For more information about this event, please click here and read this official letter of support from the Ambassador of the United States Embassy.
As U.S. Ambassador Jennifer Galt said during a turtle release event, “governments must continue to work together to develop policy and programs that protect our most precious resources, businesses must play an active role in responsible development, and groups like Sea Turtles 911 must continue to fight for protection of local resources like sea turtles through education and outreach.” Since then, other U.S. diplomats who have continued to support the release of sea turtles include Randall Robinson and Aaron Benesh.
In 2018, Sea Turtles 911 organized an official meeting between U.S. State Department officials, including Consul General Jim Levy, and Chinese officials at Hainan Normal University. The bilateral meeting concluded with the support of cultural exchange programs for Chinese students to gain sea turtle conservation experiences in Hawaii, while American students gain sea turtle conservation experiences in Hainan. Through the education programs, future generations of American and Chinese leaders would work more effectively together to save sea turtles in the South China Sea, improving U.S.-China relations in one of the most urgent issues worldwide. More information about this bilateral meeting can be found here.
In 2017, U.S. Consul General Charles Bennett awarded certificates to students at Hainan Normal University, recognizing them for their volunteer service. The students were trained by Sea Turtles 911 and they taught sea turtle conservation to 800 primary and secondary school students in rural China. This achievement in community service increased capacity to address challenges in sea turtle conservation. The development of cross-cultural goodwill through the spirit of student volunteerism and endangered species protection has enhanced U.S.-China relations in one of the most urgent environmental issues worldwide. More information about this awards ceremony can be found here.