University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

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The 33rd Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation was held on February 2-8, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Baltimore is within the National Capital Region which is a hub for important scientific research, policy and decision-making by the nation’s government and many leading conservation organizations. The pioneering 1st World Conference on Sea Turtle Conservation was held in Washington, DC, 26-30 November 1979, and having this year’s meeting in the National Capital Region just over 33 years later provided an inspirational link through time and space.

“Connections” was the theme for the Baltimore Symposium, and our focus for the meeting was to explore the biological and ecological linkages that sea turtles share with their environments, while also examining and celebrating the connections that they impose on us as we try to learn about and conserve them. The theme was evident in the attendance, the program, the special sessions and activities, and the partnerships that made the meeting a success. There were 1,016 registrants, representing 67 countries, and an additional 130 local students and educators attended particular sessions. The program included 7 regional meetings, 5 workshops, 4 special sessions, and a Video Night. There were 144 oral presentations and 248 posters- an additional 53 talks were given during a three-day Terrapin, Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Meeting preceding the main Symposium. Forty-three vendors and exhibitors, including many new to the event, contributed to an engaging venue. The National Aquarium in Baltimore was a key partner in hosting the Symposium, providing personnel and access to their facilities, and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center were strong partners in our education efforts.

The Symposium was held at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The venue provided ample meeting and lodging space for the participants. The convenient facilities and the very accommodating staff, particularly the lobby staff, were conducive to both intellectual and social interactions.

Carbon Offsets

A meeting the size of the ISTS Symposium represents a considerable use of resources, primarily for travel, but also for onsite lodging and activities. This year, following a suggestion from Lekelia Jenkins and outstanding research, coordination and follow-through by Erin Seney, the ISTS introduced an initiative to offset the carbon footprint of the meeting. The organization made a donation to to offset the full on-site footprint of the meeting, and subsequent voluntary donations from Symposium participants offset almost 55% of the total travel footprint for the meeting! In keeping with our organizational identity as good stewards and global citizens, ISTS is committed to pursuing opportunities and carbon offsets by proxy or through our own efforts, and we are moving toward green investments for the society’s portfolio.

Educational Outreach

It’s become a tradition of the ISTS Symposia to have an impact on the location where they are held. In Baltimore we enjoyed proximity to Washington, DC and increased participation by government agencies and NGOs, but the primary outreach effort was a multi-faceted educational program. In cooperation with the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center and the National Aquarium, a Teachers and Educators Workshop was held on 2 February. Twenty-five local teachers and five Symposium participants learned techniques and received materials that will aid them in incorporating marine science, sea turtles, and the Chesapeake Bay into their curricula. Local schools (St. Demetrius Bilingual Day School, Poolesville HS, South River HS, Furman Templeton Prep, Dr. Rayner Browne Academy, and Friends Meeting School) participated in a “Threats to Sea Turtles” Art Contest sponsored by ISTS, and the winning artwork was displayed at the Symposium. The opening session on Tuesday was followed by an early highlight- the “Sea Turtles Revealed” plenary was attended by 80 students and teachers from Baltimore middle and high schools (St. Demetrius Bilingual Day School, Dr. Rayner Browne Academy, Western High School, and Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts). The students engaged a panel of renowned sea turtle biologists and conservationists with a question and answer session where the panel was surprised to find themselves not only answering the usual “how big” and “how old” queries, but pondering some of the same difficult ecological questions that drive their own work. The students and teachers that attended the Symposium’s morning session had lunch with various biologists, graduate students and others in the sea turtle community as an opportunity for more personal “connections” between participants and students. Their lunch was followed by a trip to the National Aquarium. The “Sea Turtles Revealed” session and the “Sea Turtle Success Story” session on Tuesday afternoon were made available as a live webcast to 250 web sharepoints provided to schools, colleges, and universities.

Regional Meetings and Special Workshops

The main Symposium was preceded by three days of Regional Meetings and Special workshops. The regional meetingswereasfollows:theLatinAmericanRegional Meeting (RETOMALA), the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network (WIDECAST), the Mediterranean Regional Meeting, the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia Regional Meeting (IOSEA), the Africa Regional Meeting, the Pacific Islands Region and Partners Meeting (PIRP), and the East Asia Regional Meeting. The aforementioned Terrapin, Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Meeting (Chuck and Rick Shaffer) ran from 2-4 February with the first two days focused on international and US national species and issues, and the third day focused on terrapins. Four special workshops were held on 4 February: the Sea Turtle Medicine Workshop (Daniela Freggi and Leigh Clayton), Dive Behavior and Data Analysis (Elizabeth Whitman and Junichi Okuyama), Statistics and Data Analysis (Tomo Eguchi), and a NMFS Permit Workshop (Amy Hapeman). An additional Special Thematic Workshop entitled “Cultivating Resilience: Processes and Skills” (Dr. Elena Mustakova-Possardt) was held on 6 February.

Main Symposium Program

The Symposium program of oral presentations and posters ran from Tuesday, 5 February through Friday,8 February. Opening day welcoming remarks from the ISTS President Ray Carthy, John Racanelli of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Bryan Arroyo of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Barbara Schroeder of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service were followed by an entertaining and thought-provoking Keynote Address by Past ISTS President Earl Possardt of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A brief epilogue and thoughts on the theme were provided by J. Nichols. The sessions “Sea Turtles Revealed” and “Sea Turtle Conservation Success Stories”, organized by Blair Witherington and Hoyt Peckham respectively, shared our knowledge of sea turtles with the public and provided some templates of conservation programs that are seeing positive results. The final opening day session on “Understanding Resilience“ by Elena Mustakova-Possardt, underscored the Symposium theme by focusing on connecting with ourselves to sustain and strengthen the will to continue our often difficult work. Concurrent sessions ran from Wednesday morning through Thursday afternoon and included our standard categorical themes: Social, Economic and Cultural Studies; In-Water Biology; Conservation, Management and Policy; Fisheries and Threats;PopulationBiologyandMonitoring;Education, Outreach and Advocacy; Anatomy, Physiology and Health; and Nesting Biology. A special session on Satellite Telemetry convened on Thursday afternoon. Categorized presentations concluded in a Mixed Session on Friday morning, and after lunch attendees were treated to a special “Connections” session. Over the course of about 40 minutes the session wove a story of friendship, collaboration, mentoring, hardships, success and discovery, that linked the current ISTS President to the next President through an amazing sequence of people, events and places, with sea turtles as the linking thread. ISTS President Ray Carthy provided closing remarks for the Symposium. A single continuous poster session ran from Tuesday morning through noon on Friday and was co-located with the Exhibitor/Vendor Area (and cash bars in the evening) to promote interaction. Poster authors were available to discuss their work each evening following the oral sessions. Simultaneous, bi- directional English/Spanish translation and American Sign Language translation were available throughout the main presentation sessions of the meeting.


Prior to the start of the 2013 Symposium there were two press releases that announced time, place and highlights of the meeting. Media contact efforts were also made through the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Media Relation Manager and the Education Department of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Although we were upstaged early on by the Baltimore Ravens football team winning the Super Bowl (who knew?!), local, national and international media were present at various times during the conference. Several ISTS officers and members were interviewed by Baltimore news affiliates and appeared on the air, and Capital News Service (CNS) interviewed ISTS and National Aquarium personnel for an article that appeared online and in print.

Exhibitors and Vendors

For the Baltimore Symposium we were joined by several longtime exhibitors and vendors as well as a large number of first-time attendees. E/V Chairperson Janet Hochella did a wonderful job of soliciting, coordinating and showcasing the exhibitor and vendor contingent alongside the poster presentations in a venue that was enjoyable and productive for all. This year’s participants in the display hall included Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Ayotzintili AC, Bangladesh Environment and Development Society, Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program, Canadian Sea Turtle Network, Center for Biological Diversity, CLS America Inc., CRC Press/ Taylor& Francis LLC, CTL, Desert Star Systems LLC, Eco Maniac Company, Inwater Research Group, Johns Hopkins University Press, Karumbe, Loggerhead Instruments, Nature Conservation Egypt, Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Sea Turtle Foundation, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Sea Turtles 911, Sirtrack, Society for Conservation Biology, SWOT, Tampa Bay Green Consortium, Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Society, Telonics, Texas Sea Grant, The Ocean Foundation, Turtlely Inspired, Turtles in Clay, Wildlife Computers, Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Association, World Society for the Protection of Animals, and WWF.

Social Events

A hazard and benefit shared by the ISTS membership is the blurred line between our vocation and our avocation. The benefits come to the fore each year with the opportunities that the Symposium presents to share camaraderie and activities with colleagues and friends, old and new. The 33rd Symposium Opening Social marked the official start of the meeting with a gathering, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Attendees were able to enjoy the Animal Planet Australia, Dolphin Discovery, Jellies Invasion, and other fantastic Aquarium exhibits. As participating co-hosts, the Aquarium staff was on hand to answer questions and assist meeting attendees throughout the week. A new session, “Adventures from the Field,” was combined with the Student Mixer on Tuesday night, and was designed to provide an informal opportunity for people to recount the highs and lows of their conservation and research field activities. The popular “Speed Chatting with the Sea Turtle Experts” session made an appearance on Wednesday evening and was enjoyed by the experts as well as the participants that plied them with questions on topics ranging from techniques to career advice. Later that evening, the Video Night provided informative entertainment to Symposium participants as they viewed eleven video presentations from around the world. On the final day of the Symposium, 8 February, the Farewell Banquet held in the Marriott’s Grand Ballroom. Dinner was accompanied by the authentic steel drum sound of the DC Pan Jammers. The evening proceeded with presentation of the Archie Carr Student Awards and the ISTS Awards. The formal portion of the evening closed with words of appreciation from the President and the ceremonial passing of the ISTS Presidential Trowel to incoming President Roldan Valverde. A spirited three hours of dancing to steel band and DJ music brought an end to an intense yet relaxed week of activities.


The proceeds from the annual Live and Silent auctions contribute to Travel Grant funding for students and international participants. We had the usual fantastic response from the sea turtle community in the way of unique donated items for both auctions. With ISTS promoting a more socially responsible outlook, the Auction Team found themselves pushed to the limits to find creative ways to raise funds. The results of their efforts were brilliant and provided new lucrative and entertaining activities, including “Jail and Bail” and “Turtle Men Hug,” that we’ll likely see again in the future. Other highlights included the sale of the special “Connections Quilt” that was specially commissioned for the meeting and a Symposium Auction first: an on-stage marriage proposal! In the absence of the perennial Rod Mast, the live auction was presided over by Nick Pilcher, who did an outstanding job – he’s an emerging talent in the field of fast-talking and high pressure sales! The dedication of Auction Chairs Jennifer Homcy and Marina Zucchini to the success of these important events is appreciated by all.

ISTS Awards 2013

The 2013 ISTS Awards Committee was chaired by Sally Murphyand the members were Kimberley Maison, Stephen Dunbar, Jim Spotila, Dean Bagley, Ana Barragan, Ray Carthy and Roldan Valverde. The Committee did an excellent job and presented this year’s meeting with an incredible group of awardees. The ISTS Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Jack Woody for a career dedicated to sea turtle conservation, including establishment of the sea turtle program in the US Fish and Wildlife Service, focusing attention on critical sea turtle conservation issues in Mexico and Central America, garnering international protection for Kemp’s and olive ridley turtles, and advocacy for TEDs. Hoyt Peckham received the ISTS Champions Award for his tireless work in tackling difficult and pressing conservation issues for North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, and communicating effectively with stakeholders at all levels. There were two recipients of the Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism. Betsy Brabson was recognized as an outstanding volunteer Project Leader for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and for her role as a catalyst in protecting nesting beaches against invasive flora and fauna. Daniela Freggi was honored for her pioneering volunteer work in sea turtle veterinary care in Italy and as a dedicated promoter of national and international cooperation and skill exchange in the Mediterranean. The ISTS President’s Award was presented to Marydele Donnelly for over twenty-five years of profound involvement in global sea turtle conservation efforts, including successful support of the TED requirement for US shrimpers, the InterAmerican Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, and the US Marine Turtle Conservation Act.

Archie Carr Student Awards

There were 50 oral presentations and 89 poster presentations submitted by students for consideration in the Archie Carr Awards. The winner for Best Biology Poster was Vanessa Bezy and Runners-Up were Deasy Lontoh, Tomoko Hamabata, and Jake Lasala. Best Conservation Poster went to Nicole Reintsma. The Best Biology Oral was won by J. Roger Brothers. Nicole Mazouchova won the Best Biology Field- based Oral, and Justin Perrault was Runner Up. The Conservation Oral winner was Elizabeth Bevan, and Francesca Domenech and Monette Schwoerer received Runners-Up honors in Conservation Field-based Oral and Conservation Experimental Oral respectively.

Grassroots Award

Now in its 3rd year, the Grassroots Conservation Award is given for the poster or oral presentation that best demonstrates a positive contribution towards the conservation of marine turtles and/or their habitats.

This year the Award went to the Ulithi Marine Turtle Program for their oral presentation entitled,” From sea turtles to reefs: Community –based marine conservation and sustainable development with the community of Falalop, Ulithi Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia.”

Travel Grants

Making the Symposium accessible to students and international participants is a major concern of the Society, and to this end travel grants are provided to offset the cost of attending. The Travel Grant Committee was chaired by Alexander Gaos, with Angela Formia, Kelly Stewart, Karen Eckert, Kartik Shanker, Nick Pilcher, Alan Rees, Alejandro Fallabrino, Aliki Panagopolou, and Emma Harrison as members. Through their coordinated efforts, 167 room grants ($56K) and 113 cash grants ($44K) were provided to students and applicants from nine regions. It’s important to note that funding for this critical facet of the Symposium comes from the generous support of our sponsors, and from the Auction proceeds.

ISTS Business Meeting

The 2013 ISTS Business Meeting followed the closing session of the meeting on Friday, 8 February. President Ray Carthy called the meeting to order and reports were provided by the Treasurer (Terry Meyer), the Travel Committee (Alexander Gaos), the Nominations Committee (Andres Estrades) and the Awards Committee (Sally Murphy). No resolutions were submitted for consideration at this Symposium. President-Elect Roldan Valverde closed the meeting by engaging the attendees with an exciting preview of the 2014 International Sea Turtle Symposium, to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

ISTS Elections

The report of the ISTS Nominations Committee (Mariana Fuentes, Marydele Donnelly, Mario Mota, Frank Paladino, and chaired by Andres Estrades) presented the following names of the winners of the 2013 Elections: President Elect- Yakup Kaska, Treasurer – Terry Meyer, Secretary- Manjula Tiwari, Board of Directors- Pamela Plotkin and Bryan Wallace, and Nominations Committee- Shaleyla Kelez and Nancy Fitzsimmons.

Student Committee

Since its inception at the 31st Symposium, the ISTS Student Committee has played an increasingly important role in the meeting. For the Baltimore meeting, the Committee, chaired by Itzel Sifuentes and Annelise Ibarra, organized 50 volunteer evaluators to provide valuable presentation feedback for the 111 students that requested it. The Student Workshop, “Grant writing: How to get funds.” was presented by Karen Bjorndal, Brad Nahill, Earl Possardt and Bryan Wallace, and was attended by 20 students and several other Symposium participants. The Committee combined the Student Mixer with the Symposium’s “Adventures from the Field” social event for a great interaction and networking opportunity. Student participation in ISTS and the Symposia is critical to the future of the Society’s mission, and we commend and encourage continued productive activity by the Student Committee.

Sponsors and Donors

Hosting an International Sea Turtle Symposium is a huge financial undertaking and would be impossible without the level of support generated by our dedicated sponsors and donors. This year found us in a particularly difficult fundraising climate: general economic hardship and natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy limited and diverted a lot of potential support for the meeting. Because of this we are even more grateful to our sponsors and donors at all levels. A special thank-you goes to NOAA/ National Marine Fisheries Service, the Marine Turtle Conservation Act-US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council as consistent, high-level supporters that have integrated sustaining our important meeting with their own goals. Generous donations and sponsorships from Sirtrack, Disney’s Animals Science & Environment, The Ocean Foundation, Ecoteach, The Shared Earth Foundation, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Vaughan W. Brown Charitable Trust, Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Patagonia, Wildlife Computers, Sea Turtle Conservancy/Florida License Plate Program, and World Wildlife Fund made it possible to assemble all the elements of a successful meeting. We are deeply grateful for the additional support provided by CLS America, Marydele Donnelly, Defenders of Wildlife, Society for Conservation Biology, Ecological Associates Inc., Telonics, Desert Star Systems, Nancy FitzSimmons, East Coast Biologists Inc.,, Janet Hochella, Tampa Bay Green Consortium, Karen Frutchey, Turtle Time Inc., Kiki Jenkins, and anonymous donors.


This ISTS Symposium in Baltimore came less than 11 months after the Huatulco meeting and was located 850 miles from my home base in Florida. Planning and coordination of the meeting would have been impossible without the many people who willingly gave time and effort to ensure its success. I certainly needed help, but barely had to ask. The Team consisted of both seasoned veterans who knew exactly how to do things, and rookies who not only suggested innovative new plans, but executed them to perfection. My deepest thanks go out to every single one of them for their hard work, friendship, and their dedication to the International Sea Turtle Society.

Thanks to:
The Program Staff- Dubose Griffin, Katy Garland, Kelly Stewart, Michael Jensen, Kristen Hart, Jane Provancha and Barbara Schroeder, and all of the outstanding Session Chairs.
The Logistics Staff- Registrar Rick Herren assisted by Laura Herren, Volunteer Co-Chairs Hannah Vander Zanden and Joe Pfaller, and Exhibitor/Vendor Chair Janet Hochella .
Nuts and Bolts- The Travel Grant Committee chaired by Alexander Gaos; Sally Murphy and the Awards Committee; Andres Estrades and the Nominations Committee; Itzel Sifuentes, Annelisse Barcenas Ibarra, and Thomas Back of the Student Committee; Jennifer Homcy and Marina Zucchini of the Auction Committee; first round Draftee Auctioneers Nick Pilcher and Frank Paladino; the Student Judging Committee led by Andrea Phillott and Matthew Godfrey; Internet Monkey (?!) Michael Coyne; Activity Coordinator Emma Harrison; Video Night Coordinator Cathi Campbell; Educational Outreach Coordinator Jame McCray; Proceedings Compilers led by Tony Tucker and Lisa Belskis; and Wallace J. Nichols on Press Releases and Media Contact.

Without the vision and generosity of our Sponsors this Symposium would not have been possible, and I thank them all for embracing our interests and cause as their own. My Program Officers, Elena Finkbeiner and Ingrid Yanez did a great job of fund raising under trying conditions, and were joined in their efforts by Special Executive Assistant Marydele Donnelly.

I send special thanks to our partner, the National Aquarium in Baltimore for programmatic help and for making their amazing facility a centerpiece for our meeting- John Racanelli, Brent Whitaker, John Seyjagat, Nancy Hotchkiss, Laura Bankey and Kate Hendrickson. I also thank Mark Swingle and Karen Burns and their staff at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for their support and for their assistance in our educational outreach program.

Additional gratitude goes to:
The ISTS Board of Directors and Executive Committee for their guidance and support.
Every single one of the Special Session and Workshop Chairs and Organizers and the Regional Meeting Chairs. Chuck Shaffer for planning the Terrapin, Tortoise, and Freshwater Turtle Meeting.
Elena Mustakova-Possardt and Earl Possardt for their very special presentations.
Bryan Arroyo for his welcome from the USFWS.
Erin Seney and Kiki Jenkins for a brilliant effort with the carbon offsets for the Symposium.
The school children and teachers of Baltimore City and County for their participation in our outreach program. My special guests, Kevin Muhammad, Nicholas Alexander, Marcia Barker and David Silverthorn, from the turtle village of Grande Riviere, Trinidad, for attending the meeting and sharing the story of their amazing home site.
Manjula Tiwari for her gentle nudges in the general direction of success.
Margaret Lamont for making things happen and keeping things going.
The Staff of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront for accommodating our unique community.
Donna Broadbent and the Zenith Group for exemplary event coordination services (and for keeping me laughing in the face of adversity!).
Those of you un-named here, but who gave freely of your time, toil, and enthusiasm when I called you.

Postscript- As I send this report off to the Marine Turtle Newsletter and our sponsors, the global sea turtle community is reeling from the shocking and tragic death of young Costa Rican biologist and conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval. He was killed while doing what many of us take for granted –surveying and protecting a nesting beach- and likely for those very actions. I hope that the themes imparted from the Connections Symposium, why we do what we do and our importance to each other, honor Jairo’s memory and provide all of you with comfort, strength, resilience and resolve as we continue our work.