The St. Petersburg observers and proposers to host were deeply appreciative of the letter of support received fromMr. Gil McRae. The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, his letter highlighted some of the key features of St. Petersburg’s marine community. His letter of support, advocating the St. Petersburg area, is included below:
Estimada señorita Cáceres:
I am writing on behalf of the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) to support the initiative of Stetson University Law School to host the secretariat of the Inter American Convention for the Conservation of Sea Turtles. The institute is one of many partners that constitute the marine science community of St. Petersburg. The mission of our institute is to conserve the wildlife resources of Florida though scientific study. Our staff includes over 600 scientists, nearly 350 of which are based here in St. Petersburg and over 100 of which are involved in the study of marine threatened and endangered species, including sturgeon, sawfish, the West Indian manatee, right whales, and sea turtles. The institute focuses on Florida’s wildlife, but it is engaged in regional, national and international studies and conservation initiatives in order to succeed in its mission.
Eleven FWRI staff members, five of whom are based in St. Petersburg, focus exclusively on sea turtles. A primary element of the sea turtle program is research and monitoring of the three species of sea turtles that nest regularly on Florida’s beaches: the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). Florida hosts the world’s second largest nesting aggregation of the loggerhead turtle (98,601 nests in 2012), as well as regionally significant nesting aggregations of the other two species. Statewide nesting data are collected under the auspices of FWC by ~ 2,500 volunteers affiliated with county, state and national parks; universities; military institutions; conservation organizations; and private citizens. The institute hosts training workshops throughout the state to teach techniques for conducting sea turtle nest surveys and estimating hatchling production. The data on sea turtle nesting activity are used to guide management decisions affecting the state’s 820 miles of nesting beaches.
FWRI sea turtle scientists also conduct in-water capture and release programs that provide data on sea turtle distribution and abundance, migrations (using satellite telemetry), genetic identity, sex ratios, and growth rates. With the help of a volunteer network, FWC also manages a stranding program that documents mortality factors such as boat strikes, disease, and incidental capture by fisheries.
We would welcome the IAC Secretariat to our community and would be pleased to share our expertise. Our staff currently serves on numerous international and national committees (IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, Loggerhead Critical Habitat Technical Team, etc.) and recovery teams on behalf of sea turtles. One of our researchers, Dr. Anne Meylan, has conducted sea turtle research in Panama, an IAC signatory, for over 30 years, and is currently involved in a multinational effort in Panama to recover the hawksbill population that nests in Bocas del Toro Province and the Comarca Ngöbe Buglé. She also conducts an in-water research project on green turtles in Bermuda, a commonwealth of the UK that has a long history of sea turtle conservation and is a good candidate for joining IAC. Another FWRI staff member, Dr. Blair Witherington, serves on the North Atlantic Loggerhead Team and could also provide expertise to the IAC Secretariat.
I hope that the IAC will give serious consideration to choosing St. Petersburg as its home. We would welcome and support this collaboration.
Gil McRae, FWRI Director