16 May The Charleston Experience at the South Carolina Aquarium

By Christine L. Johnson, VIP Fellow, Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Over half of the world relies on seafood as a significant source of their animal protein.  Therefore, the U.S. Department of State uses a worldwide event such as Earth Day as an opportunity to support fisherman around the world by holding the third annual Fishackathon, where volunteer coders, technologists, and designers develop usable solutions to problem statements solicited from fisheries experts around the world.

One of those problems is the deadly drop of debris in our oceans.  This is a real and tangible issue affecting our oceans and it was a true enlightenment for me when I saw the need for sea turtle rescue.  I was privileged to visit a real sea turtle hospital in Charleston, at the South Carolina Aquarium called the Sea Turtle Rescue Hospital.  I was able to witness the little guys recovering, and for me, that made the problem statements come to life. When you experience the operation of a turtle hospital, it becomes real and truly initiates a state of awareness.

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Sea Turtle Rescue Hospital

Involvement by the aquariums in Fishackathon 2016 is a great example of a public-private partnership, where nonprofit companies, the technology sector, universities, foundations, government, and the general public can come together to be hands on in helping the ocean and its wildlife, which in turn, helps feed us!  A hackathon presents an opportunity, not only to use nontraditional skills to make a difference, but also to inspire creativity to serve a greater purpose and to make a difference across continents. This participation well serves our world’s fisheries, as it brings people of all ages and from all backgrounds together to share and communicate.  I would never have had the opportunity to appreciate the significance of a turtle hospital if it were not for the rescuers that actually live with this problem daily in Charleston.  They opened up the hospital to me, and Fishackathon opened the door for all of us to learn more about the community under the sea.

Being in Charleston at the South Carolina Aquarium for a unique and cool weekend event was a great way to learn about our oceans and what we can do to protect them—simply by not dumping trash out the car window, we can help a living creature, like “Moon,” one of their current rescue turtles in recovery.  All seven species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered.  This is a reflection of the growing issues surrounding coastal development and ocean conservation. To ensure that sea turtles have a future in our oceans, the South Carolina Aquarium sea turtle rescue program aids sick and injured sea turtles. They also maintain relationships and partner with other organizations, like the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

When a sea turtle is found stranded or injured, this is often a result of problems such as ghost gear and debris, like trash or discarded items, and this has become a serious problem occurring to fisheries around the world. For example, every year around 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or abandoned in our oceans. This lost gear compromises yields and income for fishermen, trapping our under the sea friends and then are unavailable for harvest and repopulation, contributing to global food loss and fish stock degradation.

Fortunately, sick or injured sea turtles can be brought to this hospital, which offers a safe place to receive treatment, medicine and care. The hospital gives them a place to recover and then hopefully return to their natural habitat. They give them a place to recover and hopefully return to their habitat. The existence of this facility is evidence that people and organizations can effect change by uniting to share information and skills. What a great opportunity it was to represent the government and to see how fostering a relationship and/or partnership can evolve into something this significant. It is certainly amazing when someone like me—from Chicago, the Windy City—can play a small part in the ongoing effort toward positive change in the ocean’s environment.   It was a privilege to be introduced to the kind of issues that affect the world, and I am excited that events like Fishackathon provide solutions that can make a difference.

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The author at the South Carolina Aquarium

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