President, International Sea Turtle Society

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The 36th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation was held in the City of Lima, Peru from February 29 to March 4, 2016. This year the Symposium’s theme was Crossroads, highlighting the need for multi-disciplinary, multi-taxa, multi-national, and multi-gender efforts in advancing marine conservation worldwide. This meeting aimed to break down barriers and boundaries between people and countries in order to achieve marine conservation through its most global flagship, the sea turtle. The structure of the symposium was similar to past symposia, with pre-symposium workshops and regional meetings, plus 3 days of symposium meetings. Overall the meeting was a success from basically every perspective; details are offered below.

A total of 685 people from 52 countries registered for the Symposium. The venue for the symposium was the Maria Angola Convention Center in the city of Lima. A total of 155 oral papers and 305 posters were presented at the symposium.

Pre-symposium Workshops & Regional Meetings: Workshops and meetings were scheduled during the two days prior to the symposium main days. The opening was presented by Sonia Valle Rubio, representative from Cientifica del Sur University, Larry B. Crowder and Joanna Alfaro.

A total of 12 workshops were held. These were: In-water capture techniques, GIS Training, Marine mammals, Elasmobranchs, Ghost Fisheries, Survey training, Temperature-dependent Sex Determination (TSD), Photo-Identification techniques, Turtle Medicine, Leatherback Turtles of the Southeast Pacific, Environmental education and Bycatch of Sea turtles in the East Pacific.

A total of five Regional meetings were held. These were: RETOMALA (Latin American), Africa, Mediterranean, East Asia, and Indian Ocean South East Asia. These meetings were successful and contributed to bring attendees early to the symposium. Three meetings were also held: Caribbean Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST), Freshwater Turtle and Tortoise and IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG).

Key Note Speakers: Two Key Note speakers delivered 20 minutes addresses. Colin James Limpus from Australia gave a comprehensive introduction of ‘Marine Turtles at the Crossroads: Complex Life Histories Requiring Local, National and International Action for their Conservation’. Brendan J. Godley immediately followed, speaking to the audience about his 10 tips on being a successful sea turtle researcher.

Symposium Sessions: This symposium included traditional sessions held at previous symposia, such as Anatomy, Physiology and Health; In-Water Biology (Ecology, Telemetry, Foraging, Behavior); Nesting Biology (Ecology, Behavior, and Reproductive Success); Population Biology and Monitoring (Status, Modeling, Demography, Genetics, Nesting Trends, In-Water Trends); Fisheries and Threats; Conservation, Management and Policy; Education, Outreach And Advocacy; and Social, Economic and Cultural Studies.

There were four special sessions. The session Emerging Threats-Climate Change, Oil Spill and Plastic Pollution had oral presentations on innovative methodologies, and new conservation issues such as plastic debris, sea level rise and oil spills. The second special session was ‘Turtles in Time’ where studies of turtles using historical archives was presented and discussed, and Eastern Pacific Sea Turtles sessions focused in regional aspects in turtle biology and conservation.

Poster presenters had the opportunity to answer questions and give more details on their presentations during “Meet the Authors”.

Social Events: The socializing component of the symposium was conformed by the Welcome Social, Live and Silent Auctions, Video Night (23 videos were projected to symposium attendees as wells as the general public), Student events, Student Awards and Farewell party. Among those events, a Speed Chatting with Experts event was held the night of the first day of the meeting, with the following lineup: Joanna Alfaro Shigueto, Bryan Wallace, Emma Harrison, Colum Muccio, Zoe Meletis, and Andrea Phillott.

The Student Committee conducted two activities. One was a workshop to discuss methods to raise funds for research using social media. The second activity was a Social Mixer, letting students meet other students as well as scientists and researchers exposing their latest investigations.

Of all these events, the Live Auction and the Farewell party were probably the most popular.

Travel grants: More than 200 registrants received a travel grant, 8 from Africa, 34 from US/Canada, 10 from Caribbean, 1 from South Asia, 6 from Asia Pacific, 3 from Middle East, 95 from South America, 18 from Europe, 38 from Mexico/Central America, others). This level of travel grant awards represents about 29% of the total registered participants. Travel grants took the form of cash and room grants, for a total of about 200 persons, which was highly advantageous for the awardees.

Auctions: We were able to collect $25,000 through the live and silent auctions, breaking records set from previous symposia. This money will be used to help students to attend future meetings via travel grants.

ISTS Awards: During the symposium a series of awards were made to prominent members of our sea turtle society. Earl Possardt, Jeanne Mortimer and Dave Owens were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for their extensive and significant contributions to the promotion of sea turtle biology and conservation. ICAPO (Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative) was awarded with Championship Award. Hipolito Lima received a Championship Award too. President’s awards were given to Colin Limpus and to the Peruvian organization “Asociacion Amigos de la Naturaleza”, a group of fishermen working with conservation. Debbie Sobel received the Ed Drane Award for Volunteerism. Congratulations to all the awardees.

Archie Carr Student Awards: Four students won the Archie Carr award for outstanding presentations at the symposium. Boris Tezak (Biology) and Callie Veelenturf (Conservation) won in the poster category. Karen Panlaew (Biology) and Kimberly Riskas (Conservation) won in the oral category.

Resolutions: A very important component of every symposium is the issuing of Resolutions, documents that allow the Society at large to pronounce itself with regard to issues pertaining to sea turtle conservation around the world. During the ISTS 36, there were no resolutions submitted nor discussed in Lima.

Board meeting: The Board meeting held during the Lima symposium was fruitful and lasted until midnight of the first day of the symposium. The Board received and discussed reports from the Nominations Committee, Student Committee, Travel Committee, Students Awards Committee, Awards Committee, as well as reports from the Program Officer and Treasurer.

Business Meeting: Very important issues were addressed during the plenary business meeting, Travel committee chair, and the Treasurer presented their reports and the attendees approved. Also, it was announced the new President-elect for symposium 2018: Yoshimasa Matsuzawa from Japan.

Frank Paladino, future President 2017, unveiled the venue where the next symposium will be held, and gave details on this. We will get together again in JW Marriot hotel & Spa in Las Vegas from 15-23 April 2017.

Society Elections: After the voting process ended in Lima, the Society will be led by President: Frank Paladino, President-elect: Yoshimasa Matsuzawa, Past President: Joanna Alfaro Shigueto, Secretary: Manjula Tiwari, and Treasurer: Terry Meyer.

The new Board of Directors is comprised of Roldan Valverde (2017), Alejandro Fallabrino (2017), George Balazs (2017), Yakup Kaska (2018), Emma Harrison (2018), Pam Plotkin (2018), Mariana Fuentes (2019), Alan Rees (2019), Andrea Phillott (2020), Laura Prosdocimi (2020), Andrews Agyekumhene (2021) and Jeanette Wyneken (2021).

The Nominations Committee added new members Kartik Shanker, Connie Ka-Yan Ng and Kate Mansfield.

Finances: Generous funding by many entities made it possible for the ISTS36 to be success.  The organizing committee deeply thanks the donors below for their generosity. At the Platinum level ($25,000 and above): US Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife. At the Gold level ($5,000 – $19,999): Universidad Cientifica del Sur, US Embassy in Peru, Whitley Fund for Nature, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, The Shared Earth Foundation, CONCYTEC and Ciencia Activa (Peruvian government science funding). At Silver level ($1,000 – $4,999): Ministry of Environment from Peru, Comision Permanente del Pacifico Sudeste, Sea Turtle Conservancy, WWF, Sirtrack and Lotek, Pew Charitable Trust, Wildlife Conservation Network, Wildlife Computers, Sociedad Nacional de Pesqueria, Darwin Initiative, and International Seafood Sustainability Foundation and Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment. Bronze level ($500 – $999): The Leatherback Trust.

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. Donations from the web site raised 250 USD for Amazon rainforest conservation with the local NGO Conservamos por Naturaleza. 

Acknowledgments: Organizing the Lima symposium took a significant number of hours and effort. The successful organization strongly benefit from the selfless work of a large number of volunteers. To them, my personal thanks. The symposium would not have been possible without the help and support from funders mentioned above. All session chairs are also thanked for their help and interest. However, among all the people that contributed one way or another to the success of the symposium, I would like to recognize the following individuals: the symposium Registrars Eliana Alfaro Cordova,  Clara Ortiz, Elizabeth Campbell and Andrea Pasara who handled all registrations issues with utmost efficiency and dedication; and Program Chairs Natalie E. Wildermann, Mariela Pajuelo and Kelly Stewart, who did a very professional and superb job ensuring the soundness of the program and the entire abstract selection process. To Ximena Velez-Zuazo, Nina Pardo, Nelly de Paz, Shaleyla Kelez, Nicolas Acuna, Francisco Cordova, Adriana Gonzalez, Javier Coasaca, Kerstin Forsberg, Flor Gomez and Luciana Klinge who helped me in poster organization, fundraising and various tasks before and during the symposium. To the seven of them, my deep and personal thanks.



1Environmental Management Office, Qeshm Free Area Organization, Qeshm Island, Iran.

2Marine Research Foundation, Sabah, Malaysia

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Qeshm Island (about 1490km2) is the largest island in the Persian Gulf. Situated in the east of the Gulf, it is bordered by various coastal habitats. Its northern coast is a sheltered area, comprising Hara Biosphere Reserve (the largest mangrove stand in the northwestern Indian Ocean; an area of about 100,000ha) and some smaller mud flats and mangrove swamps, whereas the southern coast is an exposed area, comprising many sandy-rocky shores and some of the healthiest coral reefs of the Gulf (Darehshouri, 2009).

Five of seven sea turtle species have been previously recorded in the Persian Gulf (Gasperetti et al., 1993). Leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley turtles have been recorded from coastal waters of Qeshm Island, although in very low numbers (Dakhteh, 2014; Tollab et al., 2015). Hawksbill turtles nest along the beach of Shibderaz village on the southern coast of Qeshm Island, and the island’s coastal waters are known as foraging grounds for green turtles.

Qeshm Environmental Management Office (QEMO), founded in 2000 as a subsection of Qeshm Free Area Organisation, has run five turtle conservation and research projects over the last decade. These projects have been carried out with significant contributions from Iranian UNDP/GEF/SGP and some environmental NGOs. During the first half of May 2016, Dr. Nicolas Pilcher (Executive Director of Marine Research Foundation, Sabah, Malaysia) came to the Qeshm Island to lead QEMO team in a project on green turtle population structure in the island’s coastal waters. To coincide with this event, QEMO hosted a workshop on ‘Ecology and Conservation of Sea Turtles in the Persian Gulf’, which was attended by approximately 75 participants from across Iran representing the National Government, QEMO, academia, and NGOs. This report describes the workshop and its outputs.


There were 64 registered participants at the workshop on May 13, 2016, and an additional 10 people who attended the workshop but did not register. Registered participants included governmental and non-governmental managers (27%), environmental employees (27%), Master students (19%), PhD students (14%), undergraduate students (8%) and university faculty (6%).


Session 1 (Keynotes) This session comprised four keynotes. At the beginning, Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour, the executive secretary of the workshop and QEMO marine biologist, welcomed the participants and introduced the workshop schedule. Then, Bijan Dareshoori, founder and retired general director of QEMO, gave a keynote on turtle conservation programs on Qeshm Island. He described the situation more than 15 years ago, when hawksbill nests were poached by local peoples on the beaches of Shibderaz village. But, after three conservation and educational programs, local peoples were finally convinced that protecting nests and developing environmental friendly jobs such as eco-tourism activities would be more beneficial rather than poaching and selling turtle eggs. The third key speaker in the session was Laleh Daraie, UNDP/GEF/SGP coordinator in Iran, who presented a movie of the SGP cluster programs in Qeshm Island during the last decade and gave a presentation on how QEMO in cooperation with GEF/SGP could achieve their goals, specifically through three hawksbill conservation programs at Shibderaz beach. The fourth and last key speaker in session one was Davood Mirshekar, general director for the office of marine ecosystems in Iranian Department of Environment (IDOE), who gave a presentation on hawksbill turtles nesting along Iranian islands and mainland in the Persian Gulf.

Session 2 (lectures) This session was divided into two sections, both led by Dr. Nicolas Pilcher. For the first section, he gave a presentation on general biology of sea turtles and talked about how understanding turtle biology could help managers to design conservation programs. For example, he described sea turtle vision and then explained that urban lights would not be a threat for nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings if urban planners used low pressure sodium lights instead of high pressure lights, or shielded lights, or limited sky glow in coastal areas. After a short break, he gave a presentation on the conservation status of sea turtles in the Persian Gulf. In the second section, Dr. Pilcher talked about sex ratios and turtle population structure (see Pilcher et al., 2015), migration patterns of post-nesting hawksbill turtles, and important turtle areas (ITAs) in the Persian Gulf (see Pilcher et al., 2014a; 2014b).

Session 3 (presentations by Iranian researchers) In this session, Asghar Mobaraki, general director for natural history museum and genetic resources bureau of IDOE, gave a presentation on general biology of sea turtles and specific records of turtles in Iranian coastal waters of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Then, Dr. Majid Askari, assistant professor of Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, gave a presentation on his project on nesting hawksbill turtles in Iranian Marine Protected Areas of the Persian Gulf, which had been carried out in 2015. Finally, Dr. Fereidoon Owfi, from Iranian Fisheries Science Research Institute (IFRO), gave a presentation on interaction between sea turtles and industrial trawlers in the Iranian Gulf of Oman.

Session 4 (Discussion and brainstorming) In the beginning of this session, Dr. Pilcher explained to the participants that “any idea could be a good idea”. Then all participants brainstormed about research and conservation priorities for sea turtles in the Persian Gulf. In this section, people discussed about different topics regarding sea turtles research and conservation priorities. All suggestions for actions were compiled and tabulated during the session (Table 1). In total, 16 ideas for conservation and research strategies were proposed by participants, of which 12 (75%) were about conservation priorities and four (25%) concerned research priorities (Table 1). Therefore, it was evident that people in the workshop mostly thought about conservation solutions rather than research programs.

Table 1. Conservation and research priorities for sea turtles in Persian Gulf suggested by participants at the workshop on ‘Ecology and Conservation of Sea Turtles in the Persian Gulf’

Category Priority
Conservation Put excluder devices on nets to reduce mortality of dolphins and turtles; needs support from Iranian (Governmental) Fisheries Organization.
Use results from turtle excluder device (TED) bycatch studies to continue implementation.
Organize awareness programs with fishers to increase understanding about the importance of turtles and how to release turtles from nets safely.
Remove unused and/or old nets from beaches.
Increase awareness about not dumping nets at sea.
Investigate potential exchange program or incentive to replace old broken nets (that would otherwise be dumped at sea) with new nets; maybe the government could provide an incentive to make this happen.
Provide incentives to fishers returning old nets to land.
Develop a special regularly published magazine for environment agencies to learn more about the issues relating to marine endangered species.
Work with media to report on issues related to endangered marine species in the marine realm; can help raise public awareness.
Organize a vessel to collect rubbish from at sea fishing boats.
Develop environmentally-friendly employment for local communities.
Assist local communities to improve living conditions so that they will be keener to work with conservation programs.


Research Work closely with artisanal fishing communities to learn their understanding and approaches to conservation.
Assess levels of bycatch.
Conduct a study to determine fisher interest in participating in conservation activities.
Conduct a study to monitor seagrass beds through Iranian coastal waters of the Gulf.

Literature cited:

Dakhteh, S.M.H. 2014. Comprehensive study of marine turtles in coastal waters of Iranian islands at the Strait of Hormoz. MSc Thesis. University of Hormozgan, Bandar-Abbas, Iran.

Darehshouri, B. 2009. The Nature of Qeshm. Agah Publishing House, Tehran, Iran.

Gasperetti, J., F. Astimson, J.D. Miller, J.P. Ross & P.R. Gasperetti. 1993. Turtles of Arabia Vol 13. In: Fauna of Saudi Arabia (eds.

Büttiker W., F. Krupp, I. Nader & W. Schneider). Pp 170-367. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, Riyadh, Saudia Arabia, and Pro Entomolgia, Natural History Museum, Basle, Switzerland.

Pilcher, N.J., I. Al-Maslamani, J. Williams, R. Gasang & A. Chikhi. 2015. Population structure of marine turtles in coastal waters of Qatar. Endangered Species Research 28: 163-174.

Pilcher, N.J., M. Antonopoulou, L. Perry, M.A. Abdel-Moati, T.Z. Al Abdessalaam, M. Albeldawi, M. Al Ansi, S. F. Al-Mohannadi, N. Al Zahlawi, R. Baldwin, A. Chikhi, H. S. Das, S. Hamza, O. J. Kerr, A. Al Kiyumi, A. Mobaraki, H. S. Al Suwaidi, A. S. Al Suweidi, M. Sawaf, C. Tourenq, J. Williams & A. Willson. 2014a. Identification of important turtle areas (ITAs) for hawksbill turtles in the Arabian Region. Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 460: 89-99.

Pilcher, N.J., L. Perry, M. Antonopoulou, M.A. Abdel-Moati, T. Z. Al Abdessalaam, M. Albeldawi, M. Al Ansi, S. F. Al-Mohannadi, R. Baldwin, A. Chikhi, H. S. Das, S. Hamza, O. J. Kerr, A. Al Kiyumi, A. Mobaraki, H. S. Al Suwaidi, A. S. Al Suweidi, M. Sawaf, C. Tourenq, J. Williams & A. Willson. 2014b. Short-term behavioural responses to thermal stress by hawksbill turtles in the Arabian region. Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 457: 190-198.

Tollab, M.A., M.H. Dakhteh, G.G. Zaferani, M.A. Hesni, F. Ahmadi, M.S. Langari, Z. Alavian & M. Rezaie-Atagholipour. 2015. The olive ridley turtle, Lepidochelys olivacea, in the Persian Gulf: A review of the observations, including the first nesting of the species in the area. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 14: 192-196.