July 21, 2003
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton today presented the Regional Director’s Conservation Award to junior high school biology teacher Julián García Martinez for his efforts to save endangered sea turtles on Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico.
“For years, Julián was concerned about the plight of these animals, but because most of Vieques functioned as a U.S. military base, he did not have access to the beaches where the sea turtles came to lay their eggs,” said Hamilton at the award ceremony in Atlanta. “Nor did he have a sponsor who would provide the equipment he needed to do his work. All that has changed in recent years, as the land was converted into a national wildlife refuge.”
When Oscar Diaz became the manager of Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in 2001, he named García Martinez as the refuge’s first volunteer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides an all-terrain vehicle, field equipment and a small stipend so that García Martinez can continue his work.
“For years, I wanted to do this much-needed work,” García Martinez said. “So when Oscar came to visit my classroom, and we discussed our plans for sea turtle conservation, I knew we’d be able to accomplish a lot.”
As a teacher, García Martinez gets his students involved in conservation. Twenty-two students in grades 9 through 12 assist García Martinez in monitoring the turtles. The group, called “Huellas sobre la Arena,” (Footprints in the Sand), provides a meaningful opportunity for teenagers in a community where after-school activities are nearly non-existent.
García Martinez and the students monitor hawksbill, green, and leatherback sea turtles. When a female turtle lays her eggs, they estimate how soon the eggs will hatch. During the hatching, they note the number of infertile eggs and stillborn turtles, the number of turtles that reach the water unassisted, and the number of turtles that they need to rescue. Because turtles that are born during the day face a high risk of predation by other animals, sometimes García Martinez has to take out the hatchlings and releases them after dark.
“Thanks to Julián, our new refuge has some excellent baseline data on which to build a long-term sea turtle conservation program,” said refuge manager Diaz. “Equally important is the fact that he is getting the community involved in its national wildlife refuge.”
García Martinez, 47, has lived on Vieques, a community of about 10,000 people, almost all of his life. Recently, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico gave him its highest award for teaching: The Excellent Teacher Award.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices, and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores national significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat, such as wetlands and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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