With the stated objective of serving “as a starting point for the identification of critical areas where it will be necessary to concentrate all efforts in the future”, the first Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium convened in Costa Rica (17-22 July 1983) and the second Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium followed in Puerto Rico four years later (12-16 October 1987). WATS I featured National Reports from 43 political jurisdictions; 37 presented at WATS II.
As WATS I opened in 1983, the proceedings of the First World Conference on Sea Turtle Conservation (Washington D.C.) had just been published, our UNEP Regional Seas Convention (Caribbean Environment Programme) had just been signed in Cartagena, sea turtles were recently listed on Appendix I of CITES, and the number of ongoing sea turtle demographic studies in the Caribbean Sea could be counted on one hand. Early discussion was focusing on the need for standardized and consistent data collection and analysis, identification of critical areas, and information exchange.
By the time WATS II convened, attention was turning to socio-economic linkages, the usefulness of population modeling (including the implications to management of sea turtle life history traits and the importance of in-water studies), reducing mortality associated with fisheries bycatch and international trade, and assembling rapidly expanding knowledge into species-level synopses. Policy-makers were urged to consider maximum (vs existing minimum) size limits, and the forum repeatedly returned to the need to “think holistically and design the proper mixtures of legislation, education, and conservation.”
The organizers clearly intended that the data derived from the National Reports would “serve as a starting point for the identification of critical areas where it will be necessary to concentrate all efforts in the future [and] set the guidelines for multiple future actions.” Sadly, that intention was never realized as the National Reports were neither published nor widely circulated. Their unique importance in providing baseline data – especially as regards the status of nesting beaches a generation ago – remains unrecognized, and their potential as a “starting point” is neither known nor appreciated.
A quarter-century has passed, and the National Reports, databases, survey results, invited presentations, panel discussions, and recommendations of these historic meetings have been largely lost to science. Working from original manuscripts archived in the WIDECAST library, and with financial support from NOAA, we have digitized the proceedings to ensure that the constituent data on direct take, international trade, bycatch, and other threats; landings, surveys, and population estimates; and ground and aerial habitat assessments might continue to be available to inform contemporary research, conservation, management, and policy.