HONOLULU, HAWAII – World Sea Turtle Day occurs every year on the 16th of June, befittingly designated on the birthday of the late Dr. Archie Carr, who is renowned as the “father of sea turtle research and conservation” for being the first person to bring international attention to the near-extinction of sea turtles. Under the auspices of the U.S.-China EcoPartnership established by the U.S. State Department and China's State Council, Sea Turtles 911 and Hainan Normal University honored the special day by releasing a baby sea turtle back to the ocean, and hosting an educational event at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel to raise public awareness to the plight of sea turtles. As U.S. Ambassador Jennifer Galt has said, “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.”
Acting as the perfect centerpiece for the venue in Hawaii, the 10-foot statue of sea turtles in the middle of the Sheraton Waikiki hotel lobby displayed the magnificence of these ancient animals as community volunteers educated the public about the importance of protecting the endangered species. Sporting the same lime green T-shirts as Sea Turtles 911 volunteers, beauty pageant queens Miss Waikiki 2017 Jocelyn Louie and Miss Hawaii Chinese 2017 Stephanie Wang donned on their crowns and sashes as local celebrities to give their voices in promoting sea turtle conservation. “Educating the public about these amazing sea creatures is extremely important because they are vital to Earth’s ecosystem. We all need to do our part to save these ocean cuties,” said Louie.
Across the Pacific on Hainan island, also known as the "Hawaii of China", student volunteers and hotel guests celebrated the holiday by releasing a baby sea turtle back to the ocean, witnessing the beginning of his new life in juxtaposition with the new U.S. Ambassador to China. The longest serving governor in American history, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who had the honor of naming the baby sea turtle after his daughter's old turtle Stanley, arrived in China this month to start his new chapter in life as U.S. Ambassador. With their naturally appealing attraction to the public as gentle and charismatic animals, marine turtles innocently defy political and geographical boundaries as they instinctively migrate through waters of different countries, serving as Mother Nature’s ambassador for the ocean. "The mission to save sea turtles provides a vehicle for public diplomacy and source of soft power to unite people of different countries and cultures to work together for a shared, common goal of preserving natural living marine resources for future generations," said Sea Turtles 911 Founder Frederick Yeh.
The baby sea turtle named Stanley was born prematurely and had to be nursed back to health at the Sea Turtles 911 Shelter at the Ritz-Carlton Sanya hotel. Previously, U.S. Ambassador and Senator Max Baucus, U.S. Ambassador Jennifer Galt, and NBA basketball legend Yao Ming, have also released sea turtles back to the ocean after visiting the Sea Turtles 911 Shelter, where the public can symbolically adopt a turtle to support environmental conservation. “Adopting a sea turtle gives people like myself a chance to not only learn more about the individual turtles being cared for but also to give support for the charitable cause. I hope more people are made aware of what is happening to sea turtles in the Asia Pacific region so they can get involved before it’s too late,” said Wang.
To foster community involvement in sea turtle conservation efforts, a voluntourism initiative in citizen science was emphasized through fun activities during the event. Much like unique human fingerprints that do not change through time, the facial and flipper scale patterns of sea turtles can be used to identify and track individual turtles, providing insight into their biology and conservation. By training people on how to safely take photos of turtles, more scientific data can be collected to identify the same turtle again in the future, enhancing long-term sea turtle monitoring projects for conservation research purposes. To illustrate the science behind photo identification of sea turtles, volunteers dressed in mermaid tails painted the faces of children with unique turtle scale patterns. In many cultures, people are fascinated by mermaids, as they are mystical creatures of half fish and half human and represent the human connection to ocean life; at the sight of mermaids at the event, children were giddy with excitement and awe. Harnessing public attention with their captivating nature, the volunteer mermaids told stories about marine conservation issues affecting the lives of sea turtles, raising awareness and appreciation for the species. With these memorable events on World Sea Turtle Day, Yeh hopes “to instill a higher level of consciousness for endangered species protection in the hearts of future generations, so that sea turtles will never disappear on our world, living in our imaginations as mermaids do.”
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