By: Kama Dean, TOF Program Officer

Over the past few decades, a movement has been growing; a movement to understand, recover and protect the world’s sea turtles.  This past month, two parts of this movement came together to celebrate all they have accomplished over the years and I was fortunate to be able to participate in both events and celebrate with the people who continuously inspire me and fuel my passion for ocean conservation work.

La Quinceanera: The Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias

Throughout Latin America, the quinceanera, or celebration of the fifteenth year, is traditionally celebrated to mark a young woman’s transition into adulthood.  As with many Latin American traditions, the quinceanera is a moment for love and joy, reflection on the past and hope for the future.  This past January, the Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias (GTC) held its 15th annual meeting, and celebrated its quinceanera, together with its entire sea turtle-loving family.

The GTC is a network of fishermen, teachers, students, conservationists, government officials, scientists and others working together to study and protect the sea turtles of NW Mexico.  Five species of sea turtle are found in the region; all are listed as threatened, endangered or critically endangered.  In 1999 the GTC held its first meeting, where a handful of individuals from the region came together to discuss what they could do to save the region’s sea turtles. Today, the GTC network is made up of over 40 communities and hundreds of individuals who come together every year to share and celebrate each other’s efforts.

The Ocean Foundation was proud to serve as a sponsor again, and to play the role of coordinating a special reception for the donors and organizers and a special donor trip prior to the meeting. Thanks to Columbia Sportswear, we were also able to bring down a collection of much needed jackets for GTC team members to use on long, chilly nights monitoring sea turtles and walking nesting beaches.

For me, this was a moving and emotional meeting.  Before it became a stand-alone organization, I managed the GTC network for many years, planning meetings, visiting sites, writing grant proposals and reports.  In 2009, the GTC became an independent nonprofit in Mexico and we hired a full-time Executive Director—it is always exciting when an organization is ready to make this transition. I was a founding board member and continue to serve in that capacity.  So this year’s celebration was, for me, similar to how I would feel at my own child’s quinceanera.

I look back over the years and remember the good times, the tough times, the love, the work, and I stand today in awe of what this movement has accomplished.  The black sea turtle has come back from the brink of extinction.  While nesting numbers are not back to historical levels, they are clearly on the rise.  Sea turtle publications focusing on this region abound, with the GTC as the platform for dozens of masters and doctoral research theses.  Local student or volunteer run education programs have formalized and are leading forces for change within their communities.  The GTC network has built local capacity and planted a seed for long-term conservation in areas throughout the region.

The celebration dinner, held the last night of the meeting, ended with a moving slide show of images from throughout the years, along with a group hug and toast to 15 successful years of sea turtle conservation, and a wish for even greater success in15 more.  It was true, unabashed, hardshell turtle love.

Connections: The International Sea Turtle Symposium

The theme of the 33rd Annual International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS) was “Connections,” and The Ocean Foundation’s connections ran deep throughout the event.  We had representatives from close to a dozen Ocean Foundation funds and sponsored projects, as well as multiple TOF grantees, who gave 12 oral presentations and presented 15 posters.  TOF project leaders served as program chairs and committee members, chaired sessions, oversaw event PR, supported fundraising, and coordinated travel grants. TOF-affiliated folks were instrumental in the planning and success of this conference.  And, as in years past, TOF joined the ISTS as a sponsor of the event with the help of some very special TOF Sea Turtle Fund donors.

One highlight came at the end of the conference: TOF ProCaguama Program Director Dr. Hoyt Peckham won the International Sea Turtle Society’s Champions award for dedicating the past 10 years to researching and solving the world’s largest bycatch problem.  Focusing on small-scale fisheries off the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula, Hoyt has documented the world’s highest bycatch rate, small boats catching thousands of loggerhead sea turtles every summer, and dedicated his work to reversing this trend.  His work has involved science, community outreach and involvement, gear modifications, policy, media and more.  It’s a complex suite of social, environmental and economic challenges that could ultimately lead to the extinction of the North Pacific loggerhead turtle.  But thanks to Hoyt and his team, the NP loggerhead has a fighting chance.

Looking through the program, listening to the presentations, and walking the venue halls, it was amazing to me to see how deep our connections ran.  We are contributing our science, our passion, our funding and ourselves to studying, recovering and protecting the world’s sea turtles.  I am very proud to be affiliated with all of the TOF programs and staff, and honored to call them my co-workers, colleagues and friends.

TOF’s Sea Turtle Philanthropy

The Ocean Foundation has a multi-faceted approach to supporting sea turtle conservation work throughout the world.  Our hosted projects and philanthropic support reach over 20 countries to protect six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle, utilizing a wide variety of conservation methods including education, conservation science, community organizing, fisheries reform, advocacy and lobbying, and more.  TOF staff has over 30 years of combined experience in sea turtle conservation and philanthropy.  Our lines of business provide us with a unique opportunity to engage both donors and grantees in the process of sea turtle conservation.

Sea Turtle Field of Interest Fund

The Ocean Foundation’s Sea Turtle Fund is a pooled fund designed for donors of all sizes who want to leverage their donation with those of other like-minded individuals.  The Sea Turtle Fund provides grants to projects that focus on better managing our beaches and coastal ecosystems, reducing pollution and marine debris, choosing reusable bags when we go shopping, providing fisherman with turtle-excluder devices and other safer fishing gear, and addressing the consequences of sea level rise and ocean acidification.

Advised Funds

An Advised Fund is a charitable vehicle that allows a donor to recommend monetary distributions and investments to organizations of their choice through The Ocean Foundation. Having the donations given on their behalf allows them to enjoy the full benefits of tax exemption and avoid the costs of creating a private foundation.  The Ocean Foundation currently hosts two Committee Advised Funds dedicated to sea turtle conservation:
▪    The Boyd Lyon Sea Turtle Fund provides an annual scholarship to students whose research focuses on sea turtles
▪    The International Sustainable Seafood Foundation Sea Turtle Fund provides grants internationally to on the ground sea turtle conservation projects

Hosted Projects

The Ocean Foundation’s Fiscal Sponsorship Projects acquire the organizational infrastructure of a major NGO, which frees individuals and groups to conduct work in an effective and results-oriented way.  Our staff members provide financial, administrative, legal and project counseling support so that project leaders can focus on program, planning, fundraising, and outreach.

Our Friends of Funds are each dedicated to a specific, special place defended by a foreign nonprofit that has partnered with The Ocean Foundation. Each fund has been set up by The Ocean Foundation to receive gifts and from which we make grants for charitable purposes to the selected foreign nonprofits that advance the mission and exempt purposes of The Ocean Foundation.

We currently host seven Fiscal Sponsorship Funds and four Friends of Funds that are completely, or in part, dedicated to sea turtle conservation.

Fiscal Sponsorship Projects
▪    Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO)
▪    ProCaguama Loggerhead bycatch reduction program
▪    Sea Turtle Bycatch Program
▪    Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Project
▪    Ocean Connectors Environmental Education Project
▪    SEEtheWILD/SEEturtles
▪    The Science Exchange
▪    Cuba Marine Research and Conservation
▪    Ocean Revolution

Friends of Funds
▪    The Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias
▪    EcoAlianza de Loreto
▪    La Tortuga Viva
▪    Jamaica Environmental Trust

The Future of the World’s Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are some of the most charismatic animals in the ocean, and also some of the most ancient, existing as far back as the age of the dinosaurs. They serve as key indicator species for the health of many different marine ecosystems, such as the coral reefs and seagrass meadows where they live and eat and the sandy beaches where they lay their eggs.

Sadly, all species of sea turtles are currently listed as threatened, endangered or critically endangered. Every year, hundreds of sea turtles are killed by marine debris such as plastic bags, fishermen who catch them accidently (bycatch), tourists who disturb their nests on beaches and crush their eggs and poachers who steal eggs or capture turtles for their meat or shells.
These creatures, which have lived millions of years, now need our help to survive.  They are fascinating creatures that play a critical role in the health of our planet.  TOF, through our philanthropy and our program funds, is working to understand, protect and recover sea turtle populations from the brink of extinction.

Kama Dean currently oversees TOF’s Fiscal Sponsorship Fund program, under which TOF fiscally sponsors close to 50 projects working on ocean conservation issues around the world. She holds a B.A. in Government and Latin American studies with Honors from New Mexico State University and a Masters of Pacific and International Affairs (MPIA) from the University of California, San Diego.