17th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles
Each year since 2002, the Turtle Survival Alliance and IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group hold a symposium on the conservation and biology of tortoises and freshwater turtles. BFREE staff have participated regularly ever since the inception of the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center because it is the largest gathering of turtle biologists, zookeepers, husbandrists, and enthusiasts in the world – making it an amazing teaching, learning and networking opportunity.
This year, marked the 17th Annual Symposium and was truly special for the BFREE/HCRC staff, because the TSA offered travel grants and professional development funds to ensure that Thomas Pop, HCRC Manager, and Jaren Serano, BFREE Science and Education Fellow/ HCRC Assistant Manager, were able to attend. For Tom and Jaren, this trip was their first time to the U.S. and a once in a lifetime opportunity, so they made the most of every moment.
The meeting was held in Tucson, Arizona in the beautiful and posh Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. The four days were packed with informative sessions and included an inspirational Keynote Address by Shi Haitao who has spent his life and career advocating for the protection of turtles in China.
Special activities included a memorable field trip to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, many exciting morning and night hikes in search of local herps (and at least one broiling midday excursion in search of the elusive desert tortoise), and wonderful social gatherings that allowed old and new friends and colleagues from all over the world to come together and share stories of adventures and struggles in our endeared field of turtle conservation.
Jaren Serano represented the BFREE/ TSA project zealously during his short but powerful talk, “Five Years of Reproduction: Raising Captive Born Central American River Turtles Dermatemys mawii in Belize.” Later during the Closing Banquet, he was shocked and honored when was given the Student Award for Best Oral Presentation.
We were also proud of our research and education partners who presented their work on Hicatee turtles:
Ben Atkinson of Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida gave an oral presentation on Flagler College Helping Hicatees: A Partnership with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education.
Nichole Bishop of University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida presented the poster she co-authored with Dr. Raymond Carthy, A Comparison of the Gut Microbiome among Hatchlings, Juveniles, and Adults of the Herbivorous Dermatemys mawii: Next Generation Sequencing of a Novel System.
So many moments were touching and important, because our tiny team from Belize, traveled all the way to Arizona and met research partners, field course partners, and friends from all over the world. We were amazed when looking around to see how many of these friends and partners had visited BFREE, had held a Hicatee turtle, had shared in our love of all things wild (many of which are endangered), and suddenly, the world seemed much smaller and so full of hope and possibility.
Thank you, TSA, for always striving to make the world a little bit better and for bringing together people who care.