SANYA, HAINAN - U.S. Ambassador to China and former Senator Max Baucus released two endangered sea turtles to freedom in the South China Sea. The rescued sea turtles, named “Harvard” and “Yale” by student volunteers, 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 the Turtle Rescue and Research Center of Hainan Normal University. To assist in the turtles' release, U.S. Ambassador Baucus was joined by volunteers, including his wife, Melodee Hanes, U.S. Consul General Charles Bennett, Ritz-Carlton Multi-Property Vice President Hoss Vetry, and Sea Turtles 911 Founder Frederick Yeh.
In the preceding year, Sea Turtles 911 and Hainan Normal University joined the seventh meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington D.C., to discuss cooperation on protecting and conserving the ocean, and stemming the illegal trade in sea turtles. As a result, the U.S. Department of State and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China, formed a U.S.-China EcoPartnership on behalf of marine turtle conservation. The bilateral partnership aims to save sea turtles from extinction in the Asia Pacific region by conducting conservation research and establishing educational training programs.
Under the auspices of the U.S.-China EcoPartnership, student volunteers were trained to attach satellite transmitters, supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on the shells of the turtle duo “Harvard” and “Yale” to track their movements for conservation research purposes. While resources to protect turtles are limited in the vast ocean expanse, the satellite data will provide vital information on where to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to focus sea turtle conservation efforts efficiently. To raise public awareness for this conservation endeavor, student volunteers also affixed a mobile phone readable barcode (QR code) on each of the turtle's shell, encouraging the local community to follow the turtles on social media after being released in nature.
As more than a billion people in China achieve economic prosperity, turtles around the world are being bought up at an unprecedented pace to meet the insatiable demand for turtle consumption, tortoiseshell jewelry, and curios. Turtle poachers are pushing into adjacent waters of neighboring South-east Asian countries, in search of sea turtles to satisfy the growing demand; these incursions are intensifying the South China Sea territorial disputes, positioning foreign affairs at a crossroads. News media have reported numerous confiscations of Chinese vessels, and seizures of hundreds of marine turtles by authorities in South-east Asia, culminating in high profile international incidents.
In order to reduce multinational tensions and wildlife trafficking, efforts to improve international relations have underscored the importance of foreign policy to the success of sea turtle conservation. Marine turtles are highly migratory species, moving through many ocean habitats and nesting on beaches under the jurisdiction of different countries. Ultimately, one nation's efforts to protect sea turtles would not be successful unless other nations where these animals also inhabit, work together to save them. As Frederick Yeh, Founder of Sea Turtles 911, said, “Sea turtles are charismatic, migratory animals that serve as natural ambassadors of the ocean; as communities and countries work together to preserve this flagship species for future generations, our shared mission to save sea turtles nurtures a peaceful platform of common grounds to improve community and international relations.”
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