The Official First Day of the Sixth Conference of the Parties

On the 26th of June 2014 the Parties of the Inter-American Convention gathered at the Sixth Conference of the Parties. The morning began with official arrival and announcement of present parties. The following countries were present: Argentina (1 delegate), Brazil (2), Chile (1), Costa Rica (1), Panama (1), Guatemala (1), the United States (4), Ecuador (3), Mexico (2), and the Netherlands (1). This was Argentina’s first Conference of the Parities. Panama and Costa Rica couldn’t arrive until the afternoon, and Peru, who was expected, didn’t arrive at all. The United States delegation consisted of Marlene Menard, a Foreign Service Officer of the State Department; Patrick Pearsall, a Legal Adviser for the State Department; Earl Possardt, Marine Turtle Officer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Alexis Gutiérrez, the Chair for the Conference. As the United States’ delegates represented the chairing country, they were placed near the head of the table and across from Ecuador, which was acting as both Vice-Chair and Host. Participants were incredibly relieved that all of these Parties were able to attend, because the Convention needs a quorum of eight in order to proceed on any official and/or binding matters. In addition to requiring a quorum, the convention also needs a unanimous consensus to decide issues presented. In other words, in order for Stetson’s host proposal to succeed, all of the countries present would have to support the idea. (Below is shown the Parties gathering.)

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After the introduction of acting parties, observers were then welcomed. Seated outside the central table, observers are not often granted an opinion and don’t have a vote in final matters, but instead represent different institutions’ interest. Stetson’s observer, Professor Gardner, was joined by others from non-governmental organizations such as WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), the International Humane Society, and Widecast (the sea turtle network of the Caribbean). Some countries considering joining the convention, such as Colombia, also sat with observers. Finally, the Secretary Pro Tempore, Ms. Veronica Caceres, was introduced along with the Ms. Belinda Dick, the Secretariat assistant. The Vice-Minister of the Environment from Ecuador, Monica Hidalgo, presented the official welcome, noting the Galapagos Islands as a promising location for a discussion of endangered species conservation. (The welcome is pictured below.)

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The Conference first entertained a presentation regarding the Eastern Leatherback Turtle, which has suffered the most challenges in its conservation and protection. The Eastern Leatherback turtle populations are in a rapid decline: in under 20 years, 90%  have vanished. Such an alarming depopulation could predict extinction in 70 years without any intervention. Thus far resolutions and actions had been ineffective, as poaching and fishing bycatch claim more and more each year. Concerned by this rapid decline, the Conference responded by taking concrete actions with microchip tagging to monitor progress and more observers watching fisheries for bycatch. Every nation vowed to do their part for the Leatherback Turtles, and the Convention resolved such necessary emergency action also called for special sessions to further implement protective changes.

Next, the meeting listened to a report on the advances and progress of the Convention over the last two years. While many people helped contribute to this presentation, including the heads of the Scientific and Consultative Committees, the Secretary Pro Tempore (pictured below) made the final comprehensive report. Over the past two years, the Secretariat’s main goal was to gather the remaining American countries into the IAC and/or promote the sharing scientific information about each country’s sea turtle count. To this cause, the Secretariat Pro Tempore  successfully placed the Convention’s treaty before the Dominican Republic–hoping for ratification–and began negotiations with Colombia as well. The Secretariat, while not able to gain enough interest from these countries to join the IAC at this time, was able to present technical documents about incidental turtle capture and nesting records from Cuba, Jamaica, the French Territories, and Nicaragua. The Secretariat has also worked to forge relationships with other like-minded conventions. These conferences include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ramsar (wetlands) Convention, collaboration with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, collaboration with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species…, and others. While making these connections, the Secretariat highlighted how all of these conventions’ work serves the larger ecosystem critical to sea turtle survival. In the two year inter-sessional period, the convention pursued sea turtle population counts, fishery protection, and climate change research. The conference heard reports concerning the Parties’ compliance with the IAC’s provisions regarding trading, harvesting, or harming sea turtles. The last action since the previous conference was the promotion of World Sea Turtle Day around the Americas.

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In the afternoon, the Convention turned its attention to the proposals to host in two years’ time. Stetson presented first with Professor Gardner speaking before the Parties. While Stetson’s proposal was the most concrete in its offering and also the most generous toward the Secretariat, it had a noticeable drawback in that Stetson does not currently have U.S. hosting agreement. This means Stetson couldn’t offer tax exemptions and sovereign immunity like some of the other proposals attached to an official country’s host. The Netherland delegate offered its proposal on behalf of its government in the Netherland Caribbean. Their offer was financially limited, only having in-kind donations for support. Moreover, the Netherland delegate made clear its proposal was primarily a fallback alternative: The Netherlands would serve as host only if no other nation offered a suitable alternative. The Guatemalan delegate proposed on behalf of the non-governmental organization ARCAS, which has backing from the Guatemalan government. Their proposal seemed to offer only limited financial commitment and technical support, and details of Guatemala’s potentially hosting were left unclear and unspecified. Finally, as the delegates of Peru didn’t arrive and made no action to be there in proxy, the United States delegate offered to present the Peruvian proposal. However, there was a major drawback in Peru’s proposal because in order to host Peru required the Legal Personality be established in international law by a convention amendment. (See option 1 in the Legal Personality/Other Proposals Blog.) Peru’s option for Legal Personality did not have the support of any of the Parties present.

After the other proposals completed, Ecuador made an unexpected offer to be the permanent host for the Secretariat. The Vice-minister of the Environment and the Director of the Galapagos National Park were inspired by the dedication of the conference participants and the importance of their activities; consequently, they decided the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador would be an ideal location to center the international effort to protect sea turtles. They offered to provide office space in the Galapagos National Park and to help move the Secretariat from its temporary location in Arlington, Virginia.  The Parties thanked Ecuador for its generous offer of space, although several delegates noted the travel challenges of a Pacific island with no airport. (See blog pertaining to travel to the Galapagos.)