by Howard Goldstein
14th Annual Symposium an Overwhelming Success
The Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—a joint venture of the Turtle Survival Alliance and the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and the largest and most comprehensive gathering of turtle biologists, conservationists, and enthusiasts in the world—was once again a huge success in its 14th year.
Breaking from the traditional destination circuit of Orlando-St. Louis-Tucson, the 14th Annual Symposium was held for the first time in New Orleans, LA, from 1-4 August. Held at the beautiful Astor Crowne Plaza, the Big Easy proved a great venue for “The Turtle Conference.” Drawing 230 attendees from across the US, as well as from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Senegal, Singapore, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vietnam, this new site overall played host to a phenomenal conference.
The first day opened with introductions from other turtle conservation groups, followed later in the conference by presentations and range country reports. Featuring presentations on over a dozen subjects, with topics ranging from Reproductive Ecology and Captive Husbandry, to Genetics and Conservation Policy, the Symposium once again provided the space for the foremost minds and players within the “turtle world” to share information and enthusiasm, creating an incredible synergy of “turtle people” that grows stronger with each passing year. Since its beginnings, the Annual Symposium has always been the premier venue for all things chelonian, drawing together all turtle enthusiasts of every stripe, from legends in the field to tomorrow’s budding biologists and from world renowned breeders to committed amateurs. But in recent years, the number of students at the Symposium has skyrocketed, with 2016 being no exception, boding well for the future of turtle and tortoise research and conservation.
This has never been more important, as chelonians hold the dubious distinction of being one of the most endangered taxa of vertebrates on the planet.
A highlight of the event was honoring Dr. Peter Pritchard, a true giant of chelonian conservation and research, and founder of The Chelonian Research Institute. A world-class scholar, researcher, conservationist and brilliant maverick on all things relating to turtles, Dr. Pritchard received according accolades at the conference. Many of Peter and his wife Sibille’s longtime friends and colleagues made the trip to New Orleans to relate stories of and tributes to this remarkable man, making for a fascinating and touching glimpse into the incredible career of one of history’s most important turtle experts.
Bookending all of this were two events that took advantage of the location in historic New Orleans, with the first day Icebreaker being held at the Aquarium of the Americas, and the concluding Awards Banquet hosted at the Audubon Zoo.
At the Awards Banquet, Eric Goode, founder of the Turtle Conservancy, was awarded the prestigious 11th annual Behler Award for Turtle Conservation. In addition to his leadership role at the Turtle Conservancy, Goode created the Behler Chelonian Conservation Center in Ojai, CA as an AZA accredited captive breeding facility for endangered turtles and tortoises, publishes and co-edits the Turtle Conservancy’s magazine “The Tortoise,” created the Turtle Ball as an annual fundraising event for chelonian conservation, and has secured large tracts of land in Mexico and South Africa for the conservation of several endangered tortoise species, some only recently recognized by science. Congratulations Eric, well deserved!
“With the many people from diverse institutions and countries attending,” said TSA President Rick Hudson, “this conference is a true microcosm of the global turtle conservation community, coming together once again to replenish and leverage our enthusiasm, find inspiration, and remind ourselves why we do what we do for turtles and tortoises.”
The TSA would like to thank the following organizations and individuals who made this conference possible: Zoo Med; Desert Tortoise Council; Chelonian Research Foundation; Turtle Conservancy; SWCA Environmental Consultants; Audubon Nature Institute; Mazuri; Wildlife Conservation Society; Conservation International; Turtle Conservation Fund; Kristin Berry; Tonya Bryson; John Iverson; Robert Krause; Anders Rhodin; Stuart Salinger; Brett & Nancy Stearns; Reid Taylor; Deb Behler; George Meyer; and Leigh Ann & Matt Frankel.