Biologist Saves Thousands Of Sea Turtles

Todd SteinerTodd Steiner of Sea Turtle Restoration Project Has Ended Sea Turtle Slaughter, Closed Deadly Fisheries and Protected Nesting Beaches During Two Decades of Global Grassroots Organizing

20th Anniversary – Big Splash – Nov. 14 – Berkeley, CA

Biologist and ocean activist Todd Steiner of Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) in Forest Knolls, CA, near San Francisco has been fighting to stop the slide of sea turtles to extinction for 20 years. By using science and the threat of extinction to mobilize people around the world, Steiner’s organization has saved hundreds of thousands, or possibly millions, of disappearing sea turtles from death due to human activities. Mentored by the late environmental maverick David Brower, Executive Director Steiner, 52, founded Sea Turtle Restoration in 1989 to end the slaughter of 50,000 sea turtles in Mexico for skins and shells to make shoes and jewelry. After the slaughterhouse was closed and sea turtle products banned internationally, Steiner turned his attention to one of today’s biggest threat to the species: accidental by-catch in tuna, swordfish and shark fleets.

“Our first big campaign was to shut down a slaughterhouse and to end the legal slaughter of turtles in Mexico,” said Steiner. “It took a lot of hard work and determination, but we were finally successful in 1990. The olive ridley population of Oaxaca has increased significantly since. On the other hand, populations of Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are crashing now. Both are extremely vulnerable to industrial longline and drift-gill net vessels fishing for tuna, swordfish and shark. If we don’t curb this threat, they will both go extinct. In fact, this is where we are concentrating most of our advocacy and policy work today.”

Sea Turtle Restoration Network is marking its two decades at the Dave Brower Center in Berkeley, CA, on Saturday, November 14. The Big Splash event is a fund-raiser for sea turtle conservation work and is open to the public. More details below and at http://www.seaturtles.org/bigsplash

In addition to closing the sea turtle slaughterhouse in Mexico, STRP’s successes have included compelling 20 nations to use turtle-saving gear in their shrimp fleets; creating policy reform that instituted a 200,000 square mile Leatherback Conservation Area (LCA) along the California and Oregon coasts; closing harmful longline fisheries in Hawaii and along the West Coast and stopping the World Trade Organization from gutting U.S. sea turtle protection laws. Read more at http://www.seaturtles.org

Yet throughout most of its history, Steiner and a crew of at most 10 or less full-time staff and legions of volunteers have worked out of small rustic offices in West Marin – first an old chicken coop and now a stone farmhouse on leased national park lands. Funded by donations and private foundations, the group’s budget has been a fraction of the larger U. S. environmental non-profit groups, but its impact has been significant and reverberated worldwide.

Before founding STRP in 1989, Steiner, a herpetologist, was directing Earth Island Institute’s Save the Dolphin Project, which spawned the dolphin-safe tuna label. Under STRP, Steiner then launched a turtle-safe shrimp certification label in the late 1990s that was the precursor to the seafood certification programs and seafood cards so prevalent today. Along the way, STRP also supported and/or helped start new grassoots groups to protect sea turtles including: Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles (HEART) in Houston Texas; PRETOMA in Costa Rica; and MAKATA in Papua New Guinea. As STRP projects grew, Steiner created a new umbrella non-profit Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), incorporated in 1997. TIRN projects include STRP, the GotMercury? campaign to reduce human exposure from mercury in fish and the watershed group Salmon Protection and Watershed Network.

STRP has always employed a range of strategies and tactics including demonstrations, letter-writing and petitions, lawsuits, scientific conferences, collaboration with fishers and government, regulatory processes, legislation and on-the-ground beach protections to protect sea turtles.

Recently, Steiner initiated a new sea turtle tagging and tracking research project in the Cocos Islands off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to discover the migratory paths of green, hawksbill and other sea turtle species. The aim of the new Cocos Island Monitoring And Research (C-MAR) research project is to document migration patterns of east Pacific endangered marine species in order to establish protected migration corridors for these species.

Big Splash – the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s 20th Anniversary Bash, will be held 7 to 11 pm, Saturday, November 14, 2009, at David Brower Center, 2150 Allston way, Berkeley CA 94704. Tickets $85-$100; student/activist discount; RSVP at http://www.seaturtles.org/bigsplash. Music by Blue Turtle Seduction [hear them at http://www.blueturtlemusic.com], food and drink and silent auction. Info 415-663-8590, ext. 105.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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