23/11/2022

The Conference in Morocco through the eyes of Anna Margaritouli

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The 7th Mediterranean Conference on Sea Turtles was hosted in the coastal town of Tetouan, Morocco. More than 120 delegates participated from most Mediterranean countries, and also from America, Britain, Belgium, etc. Eight workshops were held, 37 posters were placed, and 92 oral presentations were given. There were also two key note plenary speeches delivered by two widely respected ‘turtlers’. Earl Possardt, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service spoke on the first day and our own Dimitris Margaritoulis on the second.

Earl's speech was on ‘Sea Turtle Conservation in the World’ and had a philosophical standpoint. ‘When we start doing something, it's good to ask ourselves why we're doing it’, he said. He once asked his students ‘Why do we protect the turtles’? One said because the turtles had to play their part in the ecosystem. Another said because turtles have rights on this planet. A third one said ‘We are trying to protect them. I do not know if we will succeed, but in the process, we become better people’! And with this phrase alone I was happy for the whole trip.

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The second plenary speech was given by Dimitris Margaritoulis and it was titled ‘Sea Turtles in the Mediterranean: Personal Reflections’. ‘We didn't go to the turtles’, he said, ‘the turtles came to us’. He talked about the beginning of his sea turtle work, the willing assistance he had from American ‘giants’ of turtle science such as Archie Carr and his mentor Jack Frazier. He pointed out that the Mediterranean Sea was not always considered a separate marine entity for sea turtles, but rather just another gulf of the Atlantic. He reviewed the six previous Mediterranean Conferences and their great contribution to the development of Mediterranean cooperation. He criticized researchers who arrive ‘parachuting’ on the beaches and conduct research without interest in the local communities. He considers as an optimistic message the fact that so many dedicated young scientists work together, putting political and other differences aside. The audience stood up and applauded for at least 3 minutes. Some were moved. At one point he also called me to the podium and said, ‘We would be nothing without our wives’.

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The conference takes place every three years. Each time the best presentation by a student is awarded and the president of the next conference is elected, in the country of whom, the next conference is held. The President of the Conference, Professor Mustapha Aksissou has been trying for many years to bring the conference to Morocco his homeland. He had significant help from his wife, Vafee, and his colleagues at the University. The student awarded was the ever-smiling Hamed Mallat from Tunisia. Aliki Panagopoulou from ARCHELON, was elected the next President, bringing the 8th Mediterranean Conference in Greece in 2025. So, plenty of work awaits us. I hope we organize it perfectly!

During the trip we had the opportunity to wander a bit in the streets of Tetouan, looking for the archaeological museum. From what we saw it seemed like a nice city, with majestic buildings, gardens and parks. We also saw a bit of the picturesque Medina, the old town, with its narrow streets. On the last night we went for dinner at a restaurant with live music. Although alcohol was completely absent, we had a great time as almost all the delegates danced or jumped to oriental rhythms.

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In the end, despite the inconvenience of the trip (13 hours on the way and 16 on the way back), I think it was worth it. As for the conclusions on the Conference... I feel that, the work that has been done on sea turtles globally is so multi-faceted, well-documented and organized that it is disproportionate and unfair to the other animals! It is a shame, though, that the only time the word "education" came up was by ARCHELON, in the presentation of Yiannis Chalkias, as he also mentioned himself...

Environmental education is a key element of ARCHELON’s work through the years. Learn more about our educational activities here.

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