by Sarah Poulin

From February 2-9, 2019 the MiCO sea turtle team migrated down the coast to Charleston, South Carolina for the 39th International Sea Turtle Society (ISTS) Symposium. The symposium convenes each year to help bring together the community of sea turtle biologists, conservationists, educators, and advocates to promote the sharing of knowledge and ultimately to help leverage the conservation of sea turtles around the world.

Speakers from our workshop including (from left to right) Connie Kot (MGEL), Sarah DeLand (MGEL), George Shillinger (Upwell and MigraMar), Félix Moncada (Centro de Investigaciones Pesqueras), Natalie Wildermann (Florida State University), Armando Santos (Fundação Pró-Tamar), Bruno Giffoni (Fundação Pró-Tamar), and myself

On February 2, 2019, our team (Connie Kot, Sarah DeLand, and myself) hosted a workshop at the symposium to discuss migratory connectivity in the ocean, with regards to global sea turtle migratory routes and connected areas. The aim was to increase community involvement, providing a place for open dialogue and ideas on how the current Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO; www.mico.eco) initiative could best complement and add value to other existing initiatives while facilitating the delivery of knowledge to management and policy fora.  There were 55 registered individuals from academia, non-government organizations, and government agencies. Presentations and discussions during the workshop included information on the MiCO initiative and other related efforts to synthesize and integrate data on animal movement and connectivity. To highlight a few; Natalie Wildermann (Florida State University) discussed her work on sea turtle distribution and movement patterns within the Gulf of Mexico, USA to inform state officials on how the overlapping recreational fishing occurring in the area may affect these protected species, while Armando Santos and Bruno Giffoni (Fundação Pró-Tamar) gave a presentation on their current research efforts investigating the migratory connectivity of sea turtles to and from Brazilian waters.

Throughout the rest of the week I sat in on other presentations with topics that ranged from genetics to outreach efforts, data analytics to policy, and even one on the use of dogs for monitoring nesting beaches! One session that stood out to me was a call to action by Barbara Schroeder (NMFS, NOAA) on using science within conservation management and policy arenas to help protect sea turtles in the USA. Too often, the topics of science and policy are pulled apart in conservation efforts. Effective incorporation of science into policy is crucial for adequate protection of these species throughout their ranges, something that MiCO hopes to facilitate for researchers looking to get their data into useable products for policy makers.

This conference was a reminder for me of the strength of the sea turtle community and the awe that these animals bring about in humans. I met many new turtle friends, reminisced with old ones on our sea turtle internship days, and was reignited to continue following my passion for protecting sea turtles and the lands and oceans on which they rely.