IKA-ology: Cepholopod Conservation Thoughts

Dec 24, 2002
A few years ago I was privileged enough to attend a summer internship at Kennedy Space Center, where I worked for a coastal scrub restoration project. My particular focus was the restoration of habitat for the Gopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus. To put it simply, I checked out populations of Gopher Tortoises and the animals who lived in their burrows. My thesis was that the tortoise was an ecologically important species due to its digging of holes which provided shelter for numerous commensals.

Defending my thesis was… harsh. Well, it was far from defense. It was more like an attack from a financial, social, and political point of view. The little turtle I had grown so fond of was actually what is called in the wildlife circles as a shield species; a species used politically to protect another, i.e. using dolphins as the shield for protecting sharks in conservation projects. The Gopher Tortoise was not only a “cute” animal to be defended, it was also a shield to protect the coastal scrub and eastern indigo snake. No matter how important restoring that habitat was, and still is, I realized that the turtle was a pawn in a game of research grants and ecological politics. Conservation is a dirty game sometimes.

Funny thing is, I explained the importance of shield and flagship (most popular) species. Well, use terms like “shield species” in front of scientists and they look uncomfortable. The politicians simply squirmed.

My main issue with conservation efforts is the politics involved. Thinking about cephalopod conservation, my main worry is that people as a whole group won’t really push for the conservation of a group of animals so alien to ourselves. We are tetrapods; with tetrapod prejudices we look at the world around us and boil it down to what can we best relate as similar to ourselves. I see a lot for dolphin conservation, as well as other marine mammals. I see a lot of sea turtle conservation efforts, and I don’t fault that because I do have experience with them as well. I just worry that cephs won’t get the attention they deserve due to other, more popular species.

Maybe its time to use dolphins as the shield. *sigh*

Any thoughts on ceph conservation issues? Yeah, we’re probably all major ceph nuts here, but the world is a huge, unfriendly place at times. What are the major threats to ceph populations at the moment? What about habitat loss, pollution, and overfishing? Any promising ceph ecology news?

Best of luck in the new year!

Sushi and Sake,

There's 'stuff' happening right now John. In the process a few people might be labelled colourful extremists and/or tree-huggers (I've been called worse), but in conservation you need such extremism as the so-called political folk are predisposed to moderate; middle ground will eventually be reached.

In order to get anything done (in a timely fashion) I am convinced that such matters need to be played out in the public domain (media). It is only then that knee-jerk political/conservation action is taken .... but if we all sit around sipping our cuppa tea around tables exchanging idle chit chat and scientific discussion then it may take many years ... and I don't believe we have the luxury of that much time, at least for many locally occurring species.

I like your story.
Cheers, O

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