In April this year, Tommy and I spent a few days in Vieques, Puerto Rico. We received word of an old Navy dock-turned-fishing-pier that was home to several hawksbill and green sea turtles, often accidentally entangled in monofilament line wrapped around the pier pilings. So, we packed our Responsible Pier Initiative signage and took our workshop on the road to Mosquito Pier, just as we had for the 29 piers that had come before it.
When we arrived, we quickly realized that this place was so much more than a few incidental entanglements. Since the Navy moved off the island in 2003, Viequense groups have been working hard to protect their coastlines and marine environments, off-limits to development for over 60 years.
We knew that there was more work to be done – and Vieques wasn’t the only place. Throughout the year, we have visited many beautiful destinations that experience some conservation issues that may not be visible at first sight. From our experiences, we created Project SHIELD, a multi-faceted program that provides conservation solutions to areas in need. While we will continue to instruct anglers and pier managers on responsible practices and sea turtle rescue, we have expanded our focus to include marinas, beach-side resorts and hotels, beach access points, fishing charter operators, and snorkel and SCUBA operators, as well as pollution prevention projects at various sites.
About a week ago, we returned to Puerto Rico to implement Project SHIELD. Signage depicting responsible practices is now hanging at both Escambrón Beach in San Juan and on Rompeolas, the land bridge to Mosquito Pier in Vieques.
We are incredibly proud to continue working in these areas. Our partners lead groups of Puerto Rico’s visitors on dives in important sea turtle habitat every day. They are knowledgeable and passionate about the place they live and they convey their sense of responsibility to the environment to hundreds of tourists each year. Now, when Black Beard Sports instructors walk their groups down the stairs into the water at Rompeolas, they can point to Project SHIELD signage and encourage others to follow their lead in conservation. With Project SHIELD, we can work towards proactive plans to reduce the sometimes negative consequences of human presence in marine environments and, hopefully, inspire responsible behavior that will effect positive change along the way.
In 2016, we will present project SHIELD at various conferences around the world, collaborate with new and existing partners, and expand the solutions we offer as we learn more about global sea turtle issues.