Internship Final Report: Sea Turtle Restoration Project
I completed my environmental studies internship at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, which is based in Forest Knolls, California. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project, or STRP as it is known for short, is a small organization that has about 40 staff members. The main goals of the organization are to: protect and restore populations of endangered sea turtles to healthy conditions. Address the root causes of the sea turtle slaughter at both the policy and local level, especially related to fisheries. Address the needs of local economies by promoting the establishment of locally engineered sustainable development alternatives. Promote citizen participation in problem solving by developing educational campaigns that build links between activists in the affected countries and the US. And support emerging organizations in other countries in their call for international pressure to protect endangered sea turtles and our common marine resources.1 Todd Steiner, the director of STRP, founded the organization in 1989.Originally STRP was a part of the organization known as Earth Island Institute which is based in San Francisco but broke off to be a separate organization several years ago to focus more wholeheartedly on sea turtles. Now STRP is run out of a large guesthouse turned office at Todd Steiner’s home in Forest Knolls. It also has a staff in Padre Island, Texas that work to protect the Kemp Ridley species of sea turtle and has a branch in Costa Rica that is known as PRETOMA or Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas.
STRP runs several campaigns, each one focusing on a different species
of turtle or on one of the many causes that are driving sea turtles to extinction.
Each of these campaigns is funded by private grants and donations from the public.
The three main campaigns run out of the Forest Knolls office are the Turtles
and Trade campaign, the Mercury Awareness program and the Save the Leatherback
campaign. The Turtles and Trade Program tries to protect sea turtles from the
effects of international trade and economic globalization. The main goal of
this campaign is to expose how the World Trade Organization has forced the US
government to weaken the Endangered Species Act and how this is in turn is causing
the deaths of thousands of turtles. The Mercury Awareness program is trying
to cut down on the number of tuna, sharks and swordfish eaten with two incentives;
the first being that the fishing method used to catch these types of fish also
kills thousands of sea turtles, and the second being that these fish contain
dangerously high levels of mercury that can cause major health problems.
Although these campaigns both played roles in my internship at STRP, I spent the majority of the summer as the assistant for the Save the Leatherback program.
Leatherbacks are the largest and oldest species of sea turtle. They have existed in our oceans for over a million years. Sadly these beautiful creatures are facing extinction and could be completely wiped out in as little as 10 years. One of the prime causes of death for these turtles are fishing vessels that use a fishing technique known as longlines. The turtles get caught in these lines and when they are unable to reach the surface for air they drown and die. The Save the Leatherback program is working to try and ban this specific type of fishing and stop the Leatherbacks from becoming extinct. The program’s coordinator and my boss for the summer was Dr. Robert Ovetz.
Robert graduated from the University of Texas and spent a most of his time before STRP working on free speech and human rights issues. He heard about STRP and the available position for the Leatherback Campaign from a college friend called Brendan who is STRP’s lawyer. He has now been at STRP for almost 5 years. Although Robert got his degrees in subjects that have very little to do with marine life many of the staff at STRP have degrees in the natural sciences, environmental studies and environmental law. Environmentalists cannot run organizations alone though. STRP has a volunteer accountant who comes in twice a week to help with financial stuff, Bernie who is in charge of membership has an business degree and Erica who is STRP’s general manager got her degree is creative writing. As well as it’s handful of staff, the organization relies on the help of many volunteers and interns like me to accomplish its goals.
When I began my internship at the end of May there was a lot of action going on at STRP. My boss, Robert Ovetz, and a crew of other staff members were about to leave for New York where they were going to addresses the delegates at the sixth United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) meeting about the issue of longline fishing. STRP is calling for a moratorium on longline fishing and was off to the UN to try and gain international support for this ban. Robert and Tom (his other intern prior to me) and many others at STRP, have worked hard for a long time now collecting thousands to petitions and the support of over 230 NGOs and 1000 scientists, who all agree that longline practices need to be stopped. These petitions and many other materials needed to make it to New York to be presented to the delegates. My first assignments upon arriving to STRP involved a lot of organizing and shipping of materials for this meeting. Although at the time it seemed like a lot of busy work it really helped me get up to pace with the campaign and gave me a good understanding of how crucial it is that we start protecting sea turtles now before they are gone forever. Some of the highlights of this time were getting to organize all the posters and decorated letters sent in by children for an art display that would be put up in the UN. I also got to help build some turtle costumes for the protests outside the UN buildings. The people that wore these costumes kindly created a CD of photos from the protests and wrote me a letter thanking me for the costumes. This period allowed me to get to know most of the people in the office because everyone was working together to make sure everything went smoothly.
Before Robert left he set me up with some projects to start while he was gone. A huge part of the Leatherback Campaign is about gaining more public support and awareness. The only way to do this is to get more people educated. In 2004, STRP and a famous environmental filmmaker, Stanley Minasian, produced a documentary called Last Journey for the Leatherback? This film, along with an educational kit, is available very cheaply from STRP. To make sure as many people as possible hear about our cause and watch our movie it is important that we get it publicized. Two keys parts of my internship were working on film festivals and researching other media forms that can show/publicize the movie. Tom Davis, who was the Save the Leatherback intern prior to me, worked on creating a database of film festivals around the world and submitting the film to be shown at as many as possible. An ongoing part of my internship was continuing to update his database and to submit our film to festivals. I also worked on several research projects looking up contact information for radio stations and television stations. This information will be used to ask the stations to show our movie or talk about our campaign so that more people can be aware about the sea turtles’ situation. I have also worked on getting our movie reviewed in journals and our educational packet and DVD offer mentioned in publications produced by teacher’s unions. We see teachers as one of our primary assistants in spreading the word on sea turtles so it is vital that they all know about the availability of our DVD.
This work at times seemed like it was not helping at all, especially when the film was rejected from film festivals, or when I spent hours researching contacts at public television stations knowing that only a handful will actually care enough to consider showing our documentary. It was only when letters came in the mail with donations from little kids that have saved their allowance for 3 months to save the sea turtles or when highly enthusiastic supporters of STRP phoned up to praise us for our work that I realized that it all pays off. Even if we are unable to change the minds of the people in power now, if we can educate the next generation to grow up caring about environmental issues then hopefully the political atmosphere when they are in power will be more receptive to changes like banning longline fishing. As for the older generations, the more people we can educate and get to care about our cause the better off the sea turtles are. A huge part of STRP’s time is spent working to make changes on a worldwide political level, like an international ban on longline fishing. Although it would be nice if it was as easy to make these changes happen they know from years of experience that is it not, so each campaign has to think of and suggest many smaller changes that people in their everyday lives can make to protect the sea turtles. Some of these suggestions include avoiding tuna, swordfish and shark as food options and the increased use of signs by supermarkets that warn their customers about the high levels of mercury in the food they are consuming.
After Robert got back from New York everyday was different. I had lots of different assignments including writing thank you letters to teachers and supporters of the Leatherback campaign, filling out applications for different international committees and boards we would like to be a part of, and writing press releases. Learning to write the press releases was one of the things I found most interesting and valuable. Robert gave me several sample copies to study and then we worked on writing one together going over all the important parts. I find it challenging to write very concisely (as you can see by how long this report is) so trying to formulate sentences that were very short but highly informative and eye catching at the same time was difficult. Luckily for STRP they are working with an animal that people are interested in and drawn to like dolphins and sea otters. I think it would have been a lot harder if I was trying to write a piece about eels or sharks, animals that most people do not like. I also learned how to use a special database called Green Media Toolshed that has thousands of media contacts of different varieties all over the world that focus on environmental issues. My press release writing skills came in useful in July when some sea turtle activists discovered that MTV had destroyed a sea turtle nesting ground while making one of its reality TV series. STRP did several press releases about this story and I got to help Robert and Peter, who is in charge of media relations, write one of them.
When I was not doing small tasks I worked my ongoing research report. This report focused on researching funding by Multilateral Development Banks for unsustainable fishing practices, specifically gillnet and longlines. I primarily looked at institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, Inter American Bank, The World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation. All of these organizations claim to be concerned about the environment and sustainability but they have given millions of dollars to countries to support bad fishing. Researching this topic was tough. It took me a long time to figure out how to search these companies’ huge websites and to find the information I was looking for. Understanding their publications also took a lot of background research and meant I spent a lot of my time reading 50 pages documents. Luckily over time I figured out how to find what I was looking for with the help of an organization called the Bank Information Center, or BIC. This group specializes in helping people get information from the different banks on the projects they are funding. By the end of my internship I was able to collect and organize a whole binder of documents on the topic. For each bank I collected all their policies on information disclosure and their regulations for environmental projects. If the banks had actually funded projects for longlines I was able to collect the project documents. These documents outline the details of the project and usually include an environmental section that describes the factors considered when designing the project. For all of the projects that funded longlines none of them considered the death of sea turtles as bycatch a serious problem even though all their environmental policies claim to always consider endangered and threatened species.
This project was definitely challenging but I feel that I have gained so much knowledge about how these organizations work and how the fishing industry in general works. I feel more competent in understanding and analyzing environmental policies and documents that before I would have found hard to read. I have also learned the importance of actions that organizations that on the surface seem to have nothing to do with sea turtles can actually have. The issue of their extinction is far deeper and more complex than I ever imagined. Sadly protecting them is not as easy as I want it to be. There were times with this project when I felt I was getting nowhere but in the end when I was able to write my final report and organize a whole binder of information I realized how much I have actually accomplished. Robert hopes that he will be able to turn my report into a press release so that more people can be aware of the environmentally harmful projects the Multilateral Development Banks are funding.
Although all the work I have done has been a valuable learning experience I have found that my interactions with the other members of STRP have been just as valuable. My primary contacts in the beginning were Robert and Tom. Tom was especially helpful because he showed me the ropes for all the work I ended up doing. He also talked to me a lot about how his internship went and the goals he had at the beginning and what he ended up accomplishing. This helped me put my internship in prospective. I started to have a more realistic outlook on the whole thing; I knew I was not going to save all the sea turtles in a few weeks but I knew that I will have helped in some way in the fight to keep them around for many years to come. Working with Robert was also very interesting. He was very helpful and always checked up on me to make sure that my internship was going in the direction that I wanted it to. He is very knowledgeable about the campaign he runs and he sees how crucial it is that we act now before it is too late. This attitude sometimes made him very serious and he likes things to be done to a very high standard. This being said, he was always willing to help me with things I did not know how to do and never expected me to figure things out all by myself.
Two other people have also helped me in the office a lot. I was able to spend some time working with Bernie who is responsible for membership at STRP. He knows everything about the computers and is an expert on anything to do with databases, mailing, copying and printing. As an environmental organization we have to be very careful about all the materials we send out. Bernie has taught me a lot about how much little details matter, for instance we have to purchase stamps with birds or animals on, not the American flag, so that we do not seem too patriotic. Everything we send out also has to have printed at the bottom that the paper used is 100% recycled. Once the STRP newsletter got sent out on paper that was recycled but did not say it was and Bernie received about 20 letters from our members complaining because they thought STRP had used non-recycled paper. I never realized how important this kind of stuff is but because every member and every donations is important to keep STRP running it is vital that the organization has somebody like Bernie around to make sure everything the public receives sets up a good image for STRP.
Andi is the other person who was very fun for me to work with. He runs the Mercury Awareness Campaign, which is trying to cut down on the number of tuna, sharks and swordfish eaten with two incentives; the first is that longlines catch these types of fish, and the second is that they have dangerously high levels of mercury. He is an activist in the way I imagined activists to be. While Robert takes a very reserved official approach in his work, Andi loves to have protests and to piss people off. While I was at STRP he was pressuring Safeway grocery stores to hang signs in their fish departments warning people about mercury in tuna, swordfish and shark. These signs are required in California but most stores do not comply with the rules or place the signs in locations that are not visible to customers. I helped Andi by visiting Safeway stores in the area to check up on them. I also helped him bombard the CEO of Safeway with 1500 faxes one day and worked with him on creating a poster that targets Safeway’s new slogan “Ingredients for Life” which STRP claims is false if they continue to sell foods that could harm their customers without warning signs.
Andi decided at the very end of my internship that it was time he left STRP. I talked to him for a long time one day about this decision and it was very intertesting to learn why Andi did not find his job at STRP completely satisfying. He said that he felt very disconnected with the actual issue of sea turtles because he spent most of the time in front of his computer and on the phone instead of out actually working with the turtles and the people who are killing them. I found his point much the same way that I felt about STRP. I loved working here for the summer but I think that my ideal career would contain more researching and field work. I think I learned a lot during my time here about environmental issues and policy but very little about biology which is the other side of my major. This internship exposed me to things I may never have experienced if I had done a more hands on project but I realized from doing it that to work at an organization like STRP I would need the in-field aspect to keep me driven.
In general I have been very satisfied with the time I have spent at STRP. In my original objectives I talked about getting out to events and educating the public about our campaign. Sadly this is one thing I have not accomplished. There have been several opportunities to do this but my other job’s schedule has conflicted. Although I have not sat at events and talked with people I have sent out many letters and had many phone conversations with people about sea turtles and STRP so I do not feel like I completely failed on this goal. Other than this one aspect I feel I have learned far more than I ever anticipated and I would highly recommend an internship at STRP to any environmental studies major.
Sea Turtle Restoration Project Internship:
The Funding of Longline Fishing by Multilateral Development Banks
August 8, 2005
Asia and the Pacific have long been renowned for their tuna, swordfish and shark fisheries. Fishing for these species is most commonly done using a method called longlining. This technique uses many baited hooks attached to long lines that are dragged below the fishing boats. Many of the countries that fish in Asia and the Pacific are very small and do not have the capacity, or the economies, to set up their own large-scale fisheries. Due to this fact, the majority of the fishing that takes place is by large international companies. This being said some of these countries have succeeded in establishing national industrial scale fisheries. They are usually able to do this with aid from outside sources. One possible source of this aid is the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) of the world.
Multilateral Development Banks donate billions of dollars every year to middle and low-income countries to promote economic improvement and reduce poverty. On the surface the investments made by MDBs appear helpful, generous, even lifesaving, but many times they have adverse effects on the environment and the social climate of the country they are supposedly trying to help. In the case of longline fishing, the ocean and the many animals that call it home are at stake. One of the problems with longlining is the lack of sustainability of the species it catches. The status of many tuna species, swordfish, and sharks are either unknown or in certain areas considered over fished. Increased longline fishing not only threatens the status of the fish populations; everyday many other marine species get caught on the end of the longlines. These animals include marine mammals, birds and specifically sea turtles. Sea turtles need to come to the surface to breathe. When they get caught in the longlines they are unable to do this and often end up drowning before they can be released. Every year a huge number of sea turtles die because of longline fishing boats. This project examines the funding of longline fishing practices around the world by four different multilateral banks with the hope of identifying how and why their environmental policies have been able to overlook some of the adverse impacts of their projects. The four banks examined include the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter American Development Bank and the World Bank.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) works in the Asia Pacific region in an attempt to reduce poverty. The ADB provides loans and investments to its member countries and also provides assistance in planning policies and projects. ADB has many fisheries development projects but very few of them actually involve the purchasing or outfitting of longline vessels. Instead their fisheries program seems to be more focused on strengthening the fisheries' policies and management. One country where the ADB works on fisheries is Papua New Guinea. They have two projects in this area. The first is Fisheries Development Project (PNG 31650-011) that consists of a loan of US$6.5 million to improve domestic participation in longline tuna fishing. This project does not involve the purchasing of longline vessels but sets up the infrastructure - policy support, wharf building and institutional strengthening - needed to support more longline fishing in the area. ADB has another project called Coastal Fisheries and Management and Development (PNG 32189-01). It involves a loan of US$5.7 million to alleviate poverty by "i) strengthening the capabilities of provincial fisheries departments, improving the organization of fishery stakeholders, and promoting co-management of resources, and (ii) providing infrastructure needed to promote development and investment by the private sector, and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of small-scale fishing operations."1 Although this project does not focus solely on tuna fisheries one of the areas it hopes to strengthen are the domestic longline tuna fisheries that have been successful in recent years. ADB categorized both of these projects as environmental category B, which means "they could have some adverse environmental impacts."2 Most category B projects require the production of a document called an initial environmental examination (IEE). This document assesses the impact of the project and the areas affected by it. These documents should be available in summary format for 120 days before the loan is considered and to view the documents after loan approval, or to see the complete report, one must request copies from the ADB. Sadly the ADB does not require that an IEE has to be prepared for program loans. This proved to be the case with the two projects in Papua New Guinea. Without this information it is hard to tell whether bycatch was a considered factor when assessing the environmental impact of the project.
The International Finance Corporation is a member of the World Bank group. It is not like other MBDs because it provides loans and assistance to specific businesses, not governments. The IFC has projects that are funding longline fisheries in three different countries: Fiji, Seychelles and Papua New Guinea. In Fiji the IFC has given a loan of US$ 350,000 for 1 longline vessel to Solander Pacific Limited. This vessel will be used to fish for skipjack, albacore, yellowfin, and bigeye tuna. This project was categorized as a category B environmental project. According to the IFC, "a proposed project is classified as category B if its potential adverse environmental impacts on human populations or environmentally important areas... are less adverse than those of category A. These impacts are site specific; few if any of them are irreversible."3 This statement would imply that the IFC considers the extinction of sea turtles as not being an adverse impact of longline fishing. The Environmental Review Summary reveals even more about the IFC's lack of consideration of sea turtles. In this summary the IFC deems longlining safe because it is dolphin friendly; they fail to mention other animals that die everyday as bycatch by longlines.4
A second project funded by IFC in the Seychelles provided a loan of US$1 million for the outfitting of 4 longline vessels to catch swordfish and tuna. This project is also classified as a category B project. In it's Environmental Review Summary the IFC concluded that "incidence of by-catch which requires disposal is minimal"5. Although the IFC came to this conclusion the Seychelles are famous for their populations of Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. The project sponsor is responsible for carrying out the environmental assessment before the project is approved under IFC requirements. It would be interesting to see whether environmental group, or at least a research team not involved with the company trying to get the loan, would have the same conclusions about bycatch if they were to do research.
The third project funded by the IFC is in Papua New Guinea, which has invested US$300,000 in Masurina Limited. This project will include the purchasing and outfitting of two longline fishing vessels that will be used to catch prawns, tuna and other fish. This project is very similar to the project set up in Fiji. A press release notifying the public about this project was released but no follow up documents were published so it is unclear whether this project ever went through. Attempted contact with the IFC has been inconclusive on this issue. If this project did go through and the IFC failed to publish the documents on their public information center then they could be violating their information disclosure policy. If the IFC cancelled the project it would be very interesting to find out why.
The other two banks researched were the Inter American Bank and the World Bank. The Inter American Development Bank funds many projects that are involved in the fishing industry. Unfortunately the IADB lacks a large amount of transparency in its activities. The project documents available to the public are very limited and contain very few details. Their policy on environmental documents, which was effective until 2004, was even more troubling. This old policy allowed for the release of environmental assessments to be waived if "the borrower objects to the release of an EIA or other environmental analysis."6 Their new policy has fixed this problem but it still has no regulations specifying a certain amount of time that these documents have to be released prior to board approval. The majority of banks have a policy where environmental assessments have to be made available to the public 120 days before the project goes to the board for approval. If the IADB adopted a more transparent information disclosure policy we may find that they have been supporting longlining but until that happens the majority of their actions will remain elusive. One thing we can do is keep an eye on their press releases and try to catch new projects that might involve longlining.
The World Bank, the last bank researched, currently does not have a strong fisheries sector but they are planning to expand in the upcoming future. The World Bank and IFC are members of the same group and share similar policies. This is worrying because the IFC has several projects that support longline fishing and failed to take sea turtles into consideration. It is likely that when the World Bank does start to support fisheries that its projects will also fund longlining. If this is the case then people who are concerned about sea turtles need to act soon to pressure the World Bank to change its policies or see sea turtle disappear from our oceans.
The findings of this project show that although several Multilateral
Development Banks are currently funding longline fishing it is not occurring
to large extent. This being said it is not safe to assume that their funding
of longlining will not increase in the coming years. With the World Bank preparing
to put more money into their fisheries sector it is possible that we will see
an increase in industrial scale longlining in Asia and the Pacific. The root
of this problem lies in the MDB's environmental policies that do very little
to actually protect the environment. These policies have become stronger in
recent years, but if we are to ever see them change to protect endangered species,
like sea turtles, much action on the part of environmental groups, governments
and concerned citizens needs to be done.
1 ADB, "LOAN: PNG 32189-01 - Coastal Fisheries Management and Development"
2 ADB, "Environmental Considerations in ADB Operations," Section VI paragraph 3.
3 IFC, "International Finance Corporation Operational Policies: Environmental Assessment" Section VIII paragraph 3.
4 IFC, "Environmental Review Summary: PIIF Solander Pacific Limited" Section 4 paragraph 1(1996)
5 IFC, "Environmental Review Summary: AEF- Seychelles: Sea Harvest Company (Pty) Ltd," Section 4 paragraph 1 (1996)
6 IADB, "OP-102 Disclosure of Information" (1994)