New York Times Editorial
September 27, 2007

For a while during the 1990s, it looked as though the loggerhead sea turtle might really be making a comeback. But a new federal report — a 5-year review that was mandated by the Endangered Species Act — suggests that loggerheads, which are listed as threatened, have begun to decline again. Their life-pattern makes them doubly vulnerable to humans. They lay their eggs on beaches, habitat vulnerable to development and disturbance, in places like South Florida and Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, and they spend their long lives at sea, where they are often fouled in fishing nets.

It is partly the longevity of these creatures that makes their death as bystanders among the global fishing fleets feel so tragic, a truly colossal waste of life. A loggerhead reaches sexual maturity at around 35. Some kinds of fishing, like shrimp trawl fishing, lend themselves to the use of turtle excluder devices, which help sea turtles escape from nets. But it takes regular enforcement to ensure that those devices are used, and enforcement is always in short supply when it comes to the environment. Much of the global fleet, which grows larger and larger, is beyond such enforcement in any case. For an oceanic species such as the loggerhead, these are incredibly dangerous times.

Like almost any threatened or endangered species, the loggerhead sea turtle raises a fundamental question about human will. The loggerhead has benefited from recovery plans, special legal status, the dedication of scientists and environmentalists and the general good will of the public. And yet all of this concerted human effort is required simply to restrain human economic activity — fishing especially — enough to allow this extraordinary species to share the planet with us. As always, in matters of species preservation, our efforts look as though they’re directed at nature, when in fact they’re really directed at ourselves.



By David Fleshler,
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

They are sand-filled tubes that weigh 600 tons and stretch the length of a Boeing 737. When buried on the beach, they can protect coastal buildings from waves -- and interfere with sea turtle nesting. Now an Alabama company hopes to sell more of them in Florida, and bills in the Legislature would help.

Advanced Coastal Technologies LLC, of Dothan, Ala., which sells the tubes under the name ProtecTube, is lobbying the Legislature this year to change the law so it can increase sales to homeowners, condominium associations and other coastal property owners. Under current law, the tubes are classified as beach-armoring, which means they can only be used as a last resort.

Last year, the company contributed $50,000 to the state's Republican Party, which controls both houses of the Legislature. It gave nothing to state Democrats.

State Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach Gardens, has introduced a bill that would relax permit requirements for the tubes, despite the concerns of environmental officials that they erode beaches and harm sea turtles.

"Whenever we make a fundamental change in coastal policy, it should be based on sound science," said Gary Appelson, of the Sea Turtle Survival League. "Special interests should not drive beach management policy."

Atwater said the bill, drafted quickly from a House bill that failed last year, will certainly change as he talks with conservationists and state environmental officials. He said he has no interest in writing legislation that would benefit a particular company at the expense of wildlife, and was unaware of the company's political contribution. The company did not contribute money to his campaign, Atwater said.

He said it was necessary to state in legislation exactly when these devices could be used. "I represent coastal Florida," Atwater said. "I'm not going to go out and push something that's going to hurt marine life or the quality of our beaches for everyone."

While beach-armoring devices -- such as seawalls -- protect what's behind them, they redirect wave energy in such a way as to destroy the beach in front of them. The state allows them to be built only to protect a particular structure. Under Atwater's bill, the tubes would be reclassified as "dune stabilization or restoration structures" and could be used in many situations, not just emergencies. A companion bill in the House would also allow the tubes to be used in cases other than emergencies but would retain stricter standards.

Florida is among the most important regions in the world for nesting loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles, and environmental officials are watching the bills with concern. The proposed legislation, said Steve Higgins, Broward County's beach erosion administrator, "is basically a vehicle for one particular vendor of what amounts to coastal armoring," He called it "an attempt to sidestep the permitting process."

Paul Davis, environmental supervisor for Palm Beach County, said erosion could expose the sand-packed tube and turn it into an obstacle. "It could affect nesting," he said. "I'm not sure anyone has studied these things in sufficient detail to show that a change is warranted."

Ann Marie Lauritsen, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the federal government is involved in a study of five ProtecTube sites in Brevard County, and so far the results aren't good. Although no turtle nests were lost, she said the tubes caused erosion on adjacent beaches, blocked the natural deposit of sand that repairs denuded beaches and led to erosion of sand above turtle nests. "That is our main concern," she said. "They don't retain sand during nesting season."

Rande Kessler, chief executive officer of Advanced Coastal Technologies, said the company's products protect coastal property at a low cost to the environment. Unlike seawalls, which protect beaches by reflecting wave energy back toward the ocean, ProtecTubes are sloped to allow waves to run up and dissipate some of their force, he said. ProtecTubes guard 1,100 feet of beach in front of a condominium south of Jacksonville. When hurricanes Jeanne and Frances swept up the coast in 2004, they tore up all the beaches in Vero Beach except for one location, the Caledon Shore condominium, where a bulwark of ProtecTubes blocked the waves. When storms like these tear the sand off the tubes, he said, it can be easily replaced, in contrast to beaches in front of seawalls, which leave nothing to build on. "The sand doesn't go anywhere, the property doesn't go anywhere," he said. "And it's much easier to put the sand back on top for the turtles."

[Editor's comment: "In this political era, money and corporate influence rewrites science."]



WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The case of the Hawaiian Haha is no laughing matter to environmentalists, who say the rare plant went extinct while waiting for U.S. wildlife officials to put it on the Endangered Species list.

The Haha's fate is a symptom of wider problems at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversees programs aimed at protecting threatened species, according to a report for release on Wednesday by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The report, obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, said that the Bush administration has listed 57 species as protected since 2001, far fewer than the 512 species listed in the Clinton administration and less than the 234 species listed during the four-year presidency of George H.W. Bush , the current president's father.

At least two species -- the Haha of Hawaii and the Lake Sammamish Kokonee, a fish native to Washington state -- went extinct while waiting for protection during this administration, the report said.

"There are a certain number of species on the candidate list right now that are close to extinction, and that ought to be listed, and what the administration has done to date is to say that they don't have enough money and resources to list these species," said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the biodiversity center.

"They're definitely in a pattern of waiting and waiting and waiting until either the species does go extinct or the next administration comes in," Snape said in a telephone interview.


Endangered sea turtles need your help today! Despite overwhelming public support for sea turtle conservation, President Bush has proposed to dramatically underfund a key program to save these animals. Please take action today by writing your Senators and Representative in Congress. Urge them to do all they can to turn the tables and increase funding for vitally important endangered species conservation programs, including one intended to help endangered sea turtles.

Instead of cutbacks, funding for essential conservation programs need to be increased. Endangered species need more help—not less—since they continue to face increasing threats to their survival from poaching, habitat destruction and civil unrest.
During the next two weeks, Congress will begin its appropriation cycle for fiscal year 2008—deciding how much money will go towards different programs and projects.

The Ocean Conservancy is requesting $1.5 million for the Marine Turtle Conservation Fund. In 2004, The Ocean Conservancy helped establish the Fund to ensure the long-term survival of sea turtles, by assisting in the conservation of the imperiled species and their nesting habitats in foreign countries. The Fund has been hugely successful, providing grants for anti-poaching patrols, habitat protection, surveys of animal populations, public education, disease control, and innovative efforts to resolve human-animal conflicts.

Ocean Conservancy activists stopped similar cuts in each of the last two years. We need your help again. Take action today—you can make a difference!

LINK TO PETITION: Click on title above.



By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Worldwide efforts to protect endangered waterbirds are falling short as industrial and urban development eat away at their habitats, and hunting and pollution take their toll, according to a book released Monday.
"Despite global conservation efforts, waterbirds are being sidelined by economic development," according to three groups that edited "Waterbirds Around the World," which includes data covering 162 countries and 614 species.

In January, a global survey called the Waterbird Population Estimate found that 44 percent of the world's 900 waterbird species numbers have fallen in the past five years, while 34 percent were stable, and 17 percent were rising. In the last such survey in 2002, 41 percent of waterbird populations worldwide were found to be decreasing.

"Waterbirds Around the World" is based on papers presented at a 2004 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and updated since then. It paints a picture of largely positive progress in Europe and North America, but ongoing problems in other parts of the world.

In east and southeast Asia, rapid economic development "has led to land-claim, increased hunting and pollution," the book's editors said in a statement. "Too few species and their habitats are protected. Enforcement of protection is noticeably missing."

They cited a "shocking example" in South Korea where a land claim project on the shores of the Yellow Sea completed in April 2006 destroyed 155 square miles of intertidal mudflats that were a key wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds in Asia, including the endangered spoonbilled sandpiper and Nordmanns greenshank.

Britain's Minister for Biodiversity Barry Gardiner welcomed the book and said it underscored the need for countries to work together to protect waterbirds and their habitats.

"What we have to do is work with other countries to make sure that development in those countries is sustainable for them and for us," Gardiner said.

In Africa, pollution and urban development also are destroying wetlands and governments lack the knowledge to effectively protect them. However, U.N.-funded projects are under way in the continent to protect crucial sites along migration routes, according to the book, which was edited by the British government advisory panel, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish National Heritage and Dutch-based Wetlands International.

In Europe and North America, where governments have been active for years in protecting wetlands on birds' migration routes, "good conservation progress has been made," the groups said.

In Central Asia, some governments are cooperating to protect wetlands along key migration routes, but in many other developing nations, the groups said, "conservation measures are still ... a low priority."



The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles in the western hemisphere and the second most important nesting beach in the world. This twenty-mile zone extending along the eastern coast of Florida from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach attracts 25 - 35% of all loggerhead and green sea turtle nesting in the U.S.

Unfortunately, these sea turtles and other precious wildlife are about to be left without the protections they desperately need to survive. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced plans to eliminate almost 90 positions of the workforce in Southeast Florida. This would leave Archie Carr without necessary staffing or funding. If the looming budget cuts become a reality, Archie Carr will no longer be able to work to protect endangered sea turtles and the populations may become so low, they might not be able to recover.

Please take action today by writing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Urge them to reinstate funding for Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. The government needs to hear from YOU that wildlife protection is important. Without your support, the budget cuts are a done deal.

The refuge’s primary goal is to protect threatened and endangered species. With the planned staffing and funding cuts at Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge, they will be unable to accomplish this mission.

Loggerhead sea turtle nesting numbers are declining. It is critical that they are conserved and managed for recovery in the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge. Without sufficient staff and funding to perform the necessary recovery efforts on the refuge beaches, the outlook for loggerhead sea turtles is grim. Please help give the sea turtles a fighting change—by taking action today! We need to speak up for marine wildlife, before it’s too late.

LINK TO PETITION: Click on title above.



By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Sunday 28 January 2007

"Every winter, the Japanese whaling fleet heads to the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica on a mission to kill a thousand whales. Ever since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986, Japan has used a curious rationale for its whaling. It does not kill a thousand whales for commercial purposes. It kills them for scientific research.
The major whaling nations, Japan, Iceland and Norway, have been persistent in their efforts to reinstate commercial whaling. They say that the IWC is supposed to be a marine resources management agency and that the stocks of certain whales, even endangered species like humpbacks and finned whales, have recovered enough to allow for regulated commercial whaling. At last summer's IWC meeting, Japan scored a symbolic victory by pressuring enough member nations to achieve a one-vote majority in favor of lifting the ban. However, the ban remains in place, because IWC rules require a supermajority to overturn it, and so Japan is back to hunting whales under the rubric of science.
As the Japanese whaling fleet combs the Southern Ocean, harvesting its self-imposed quota of 935 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 10 finned whales, members of the Sea Shepherd Society are hunting the whalers, intent on intercepting the Japanese fleet and placing their own bodies between the harpoons and the victims, the sentient cetaceans.
I spoke with Captain Paul Watson by satellite phone this week about the Sea Shepherd's campaign. Watson is aboard the Robert Hunter, a fast-pursuit vessel that is one of two ships and a helicopter now deployed by the Sea Shepherd Society in the Southern Ocean.”



By mid century, new threats to wildlife emerged, silent and more insidious than poaching. The damaging effects of DDT were first observed in the 1950s but it was not until the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring that the problem came to public attention. DDT alters the calcium metabolism of birds causing thin eggshells that break under the weight of nesting hens. Thin eggshells lead to years of reproductive failure and a precipitous decline in bird populations. Many bird species were again brought to the edge of extinction including the brown pelican and the bald eagle, our national symbol.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas taught us that “birds can serve as excellent indicators of the quality of habitat – not just their own, but that of humans who share the land.” It was the consequence of DDT on birds that first alerted us to the dangers of DDT on human communities. Despite a trail of evidence spanning 40 years that prove the harmful effects of DDT on human and wildlife communities alike, there are lobbyists who disparage the evidence and seek to reverse the ban on DDT.

Another threat to wildlife is indiscriminate development on environmentally sensitive lands. According to Douglas, the problem is attributable in part to “the phenomenal tide of people rushing south faster than the government, the schools, the land and the water could accommodate.”

In the 1960s, the threat to Pelican Island came from the State of Florida in the form of a policy to dredge, fill, and sell the bottomlands for development. Local citizens were outraged. A citrus grower named Joe Michael organized the Indian River Preservation League and joined forces with commercial fishermen, sportsmen, civic groups and the Florida Audubon Society to stop the sale. Citizen activism forced the State into leasing thousands of acres of wetlands and bottomlands to the Refuge for protection, providing that no restrictions be imposed on fishing and boating in the Indian River Lagoon.

Today, the Archie Carr and Pelican Island Refuges are home to many endangered, threatened, or protected species. These include the Florida manatee, the American bald eagle, the leatherback, loggerhead and green sea turtles, the eastern indigo snake, and the North American Wood Stork, only stork indigenous to this continent. Winter brings white pelicans, terns, kingfishers, and other visitors to the region. On my favorite birding trails, I have caught fleeting glimpses of roseate spoonbills and magnificent frigatebirds.

Timely interventions prevented the loss of a national treasure. It is a story about heroism in many forms: the courage of an immigrant, the vision of a President, the activism of citizens, the resourcefulness of a refuge manager, and the work of countless volunteers who keep alive the spirit of conservation.


After the Civil War, the pace of settlement in Florida accelerated due to provisions of the Homestead Act and improvements in boat and rail transportation. It was not the mass migration of settlers that threatened Florida’s wildlife but an aggressive, pioneering spirit determined to wrest a living from the land. In due course, these early settlers discovered the bird rookeries at a time when the millinery trade had driven up the price of feathers to more than twice their weight in gold. Plume hunters armed with clubs and guns plundered the rookeries and slaughtered thousands of birds in a single night. By the end of the century, the great bird populations of Florida were hunted to the verge of extinction, and the last remaining rookery on the East Coast was Pelican Island.

The Homestead Act brought Paul Kroegel and his father to Florida in 1881. They staked their claim along the west bank of the Indian River Lagoon just opposite Pelican Island. From his homestead perched high upon an ancient Indian shell mound, Paul Kroegel observed the thousands of water birds flying to and from the rookery. He witnessed the boatloads of tourists using birds for target practice, the oölogists who ransacked the island for collectable eggs, and the nighttime raids by plume hunters. With a boat and a gun as his only mandate, Paul Kroegel guarded the island’s inhabitants from poachers and vandals.

Over the years, influential naturalists visited the Kroegel homestead including Frank Chapman, bird curator of the American Museum of Natural History, and William Dutcher, President of the American Audubon Society. Chapman and Dutcher learned about the plight of the birds from Kroegel and brought the grim reports to Theodore Roosevelt, our first conservationist President.

In response to the lobbying efforts of Chapman, Dutcher and others, President Roosevelt signed an executive order on March 14, 1903 establishing Pelican Island as a federal bird preserve. Roosevelt created 55 additional sanctuaries during two terms in office. These became the beginnings of our national wildlife refuge system, which now comprises 540 reservations protecting 94 million acres. For his role, Paul Kroegel became our first National Wildlife Refuge Manager earning a dollar a month and a place in history.

Eventually, federal legislation banned the sale and possession of exotic bird plumes thus ending the feather trade. Yet other threats remained. In 1918, hundreds of pelican chicks were clubbed to death because commercial fisherman believed that pelicans were competing for dwindling fish supplies. The Florida Audubon Society ended the controversy by demonstrating that pelican diets were comprised of not-for-consumption baitfish, thus posing no threat to the livelihoods of commercial fisherman. Even today, simple misconceptions and prejudices about wildlife are major obstacles to conservation, and educational outreach programs remain our best defense.

(Hint: Educational outreach includes blogs like “EcoPhotos” that bring this message to blogging community. So spread the word. Thanks, everyone.)


When I decided to make my home in Florida, little did I know that my career would literally take a turn for the birds. I started out in New York as a scriptwriter and filmmaker. My career took me from New York to London and Paris and eventually back to New York. Florida is where I cast off the urban lifestyle and chose life as a wildlife photographer and conservationist. I have lived in four communities since moving here: Melbourne Beach, Mount Dora, Delray Beach, and Ponce Inlet (current). Perhaps my favorite is Melbourne Beach because it is the place where I reinvented myself, the irrepressible Phoenix.

Melbourne Beach is a patchwork of subdivisions and public lands strung like pearls along 20 miles of barrier island. Bounded by ocean to the east and the Indian River Lagoon to the west, this region is home to some of the most diverse habitats in the United States. Shorelines, wetlands, mangrove habitats, and maritime hammocks support a myriad of animal and plant species. This region is also home to a historically important bird rookery and the most productive loggerhead sea turtle nesting beaches in the Western Hemisphere. The Pelican Island and Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuges are virtually at my doorstep, and I consider myself fortunate to start out in this region of Florida.

My day begins before sunrise with breakfast at a local café. When the first light of day breaks over the treetops, I head towards my favorite birding trails. On any given morning, I am likely to find pelicans bobbing lazily in the lagoon. Brown pelicans are ubiquitous in Florida. The most patient of panhandlers, they loiter around boat docks and fishing piers. They strafe rooftops and shorelines. Clumsy and awkward on land, they are the most graceful of gliders. Pelicans have been described as “solemn,” “dignified,” “comical,” and “pompous” by various observers. With pouched bills pressed against breast, they appear to me like pterosaurs masquerading as English butlers.

Last year, I rescued a pelican entangled in monofilament. I bundled up the hapless bird for transport to a nearby ranger station. The pelican was incredibly light for its size – about the stature of a goose but weighing a mere 7 pounds.

Why Pelican Island is unique among rookeries has been a subject of conjecture. We do know that rookeries must be isolated from mainland predators for successful breeding to take place, and pelicans are known to be social birds that seek safety in numbers. Pelican Island is surrounded with abundant fisheries to support large bird colonies. Like sea turtles and other bird species, pelicans tend to return to their natal origins and “remain faithful to the old homeland of their ancestors,” (Herbert Keightley Job, 1905).

In winter, hundreds of pelicans, along with anhinga, wood storks, egrets, and herons of every variety cram themselves on Pelican Island to begin their courtship rituals. One might say pelicans separate into social classes with the upper crust preferring the treetops while the more down-to-earth birds make their nests on the ground. Newborn hatchings are altricial by nature, meaning they are blind, naked, and helpless at birth.

I return to my favorite birding trails again and again. The combinations of subject, lighting, and composition are infinite and ever changing, and it may be hours or days before I find the right shot. Photography removes all subjects from the continuity of space and time. An endangered species may appear abundant in the frozen moment of a photograph but is often elusive and hard to find. Out of context, a hard-won nature photograph fails to convey the grim reality that everywhere our precious wildlife heritage is under siege.

From atop an 18-foot observation tower, Pelican Island appears humble against a grey-blue expanse of Indian River Lagoon. Nevertheless, this place represents an important milestone as the birthplace of the American conservation movement and our National Wildlife Refuge System.

My journeys leave me breathless. The currents and eddies of my life seem improbable, yet they make sense even if I am the only one to remember or comprehend. So I start here - at an endpoint and a beginning.