HAIKOU, CHINA - United States Consul General Charles Bennett visited Hainan Normal University to present the U.S.-China Sea Turtle Conservation Scholarship to two students, Tina Zhang and Kaia Guo. In addition to bestowing the award, Consul General Bennett and U.S. State Department officials were taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Turtles 911 Rescue and Research Center, where rescued turtles undergo rehabilitation while students conduct research. Sea Turtles 911 established the rescue center at the university to maximize opportunities for students to gain hands-on work experiences in marine turtle rescue and research, without having students leave campus into the field where safety may be of concern.
Consul General Bennett has previously supported marine turtle conservation efforts through the U.S.-China EcoPartnership between Sea Turtles 911 and Hainan Normal University. In 2016, the U.S. Consul General, along with former U.S. Ambassador and Senator Max Baucus, released rescued sea turtles back into the ocean. The Consul General concluded his visit at the university by expressing his support for the Sea Turtles 911 Volunteer Internship Program, in which students gain sea turtle conservation experiences in Hawaii, where protection efforts have been successful, and apply this knowledge in China, where sea turtle populations are declining towards extinction. Student graduates of the education program would metaphorically become a sea turtle or “hai gui,” which is a Chinese homophonic term for a person who returns to their home country after studying abroad, similar in nature to how sea turtles literally return to their natal beaches and feeding grounds after their long distance migrations. As Hawaii Governor David Ige said during his 2015 official visit to China, “I am excited about future opportunities for partnerships between schools in Hawai‘i and [China] that promote people-to-people exchange among students as they strive toward developing into globally conscious citizens.”
Since 2014, college senior students Tina and Kaia have been volunteering for Sea Turtles 911 by educating tourists, children, and other students about the importance of conserving sea turtles. In October 2016, they trained 15 other university students to be volunteer educators who then taught sea turtle conservation to 800 elementary, middle, and high school students in rural China from November 2016 to January 2017. This achievement in community service increased capacity to address challenges in sea turtle conservation and was recognized by the local government in an awards ceremony for the student group.
Although sea turtle conservation in China is at its nascent stage, additional support through the U.S.-China Sea Turtle Conservation Scholarship would encourage more students like Tina and Kaia to pursue their passions for marine turtle conservation as a career path. The scholarship helps cover the costs of travel between China and the United States so that more students have the opportunity to participate in the Sea Turtles 911 Volunteer Internship Program in Hawaii and China. Through the program, future generations of American and Chinese leaders would work more effectively together on sea turtle conservation issues in the Asia Pacific region. The development of cross-cultural goodwill through the spirit of student volunteerism and endangered species protection would enhance U.S.-China relations in one of the most urgent environmental issues worldwide.
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