PARIS, FRANCE — November 12, 2018 — In a bold move to stress the pivotal role of the Aldabra tortoise in regional ecosystem restoration, as well as shed light on the plight of this particular species in the face of climate change and human interference, a collective of conservationists and philanthropists have announced the establishment of the Indian Ocean Tortoise Alliance (IOTA), on the occasion of the first edition of the Paris Peace Forum – a new annual meeting for global governance actors.
IOTA is an inclusive, Seychelles-anchored non-profit initiative dedicated to the conservation of the iconic Aldabra tortoise and its "rewilding," both within the Seychelles and – as a truly innovative vehicle for regional collaboration – the broader Western Indian Ocean (WIO), where giant tortoises have been eradicated. In partnership with like-minded organizations, IOTA also promotes the Aldabra tortoise as the symbol for ecotourism and supports outreach and education activities.
Beginning early 2019, IOTA will support and drive research programs on Aldabra Atoll and various other rewilding sites across the WIO. These efforts will inform the management of tortoise-mediated ecosystem functioning in rewilding sites, and help mitigate the impact of projected climate change on giant tortoises and their habitats. Conservation scientist and IOTA advisor Dr. Dennis Hansen illustrated the importance of IOTA's anticipated role: "Giant tortoises are the ecosystem restoration engineers of the future for small islands around the world. IOTA aims to be a key driver of rewilding actions with Aldabra tortoises on islands across the Western Indian Ocean."
IOTA joins the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation family of leading conservation entities, including Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University (WildCRU), and The Orianne Society. Speaking at the launch event, IOTA Founder and Chairman Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan explained the philosophy underpinning this new initiative: "Giant tortoises had managed to survive on many islands worldwide until humans finally arrived. Since then, man has been the driving force behind the extinction of these enchanting creatures. What our species has undone, however, can be fixed. In a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie, IOTA will work to bring people and organizations together across the WIO to conserve and manage the Aldabra tortoise, along with other endangered species that can be preserved within this initiative."
Dr. Kaplan also stressed the potential catalytic role that this initiative could play towards sustainable and responsible economic development: "Seychelles is a Paradise, with ample opportunities for the expansion of its ecotourism. Home to 100,000 giant tortoises, the Seychelles hosts several times more tortoises than in all of the Galapagos and indeed has a population of tortoises greater in size than its human population. With over 300,000 tourists visiting the country annually, the branding of the Aldabra tortoise represents a unique opportunity to create a new 'crown jewel' for the Seychelles and the region as a whole."
Imperative to the health and success of any conservation effort are the cooperation and support it receives from government. President of the Republic of Seychelles, Mr. Danny Faure, who is also the Patron of the Seychelles Islands Foundation that is looking after the magnificent Aldabra Atoll, recalls: "This experience is engraved in my memory and made me realize that conservation is not a matter of choice but survival, not only for the tortoises but us humans. We all have to take on our responsibilities and make lifestyle changes to combat species extinctions as well as climate change, by the way both being intertwined. Seychelles has long recognized this and fully supports such initiatives as IOTA to blow this wind of change."
Further regional support poured in from Razan K. Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund: "As a Fund dedicated to the conservation of species, the MBZ Species Conservation Fund has supported over 100 projects dedicated to the preservation of turtles and tortoises. We know just how vulnerable these species are, but we also know that with the right type of partnerships, support, and dedication, their recovery potential is enormous. We are thrilled to welcome IOTA as a key player in the conservation of the Aldabra tortoise."
Also participating in the high-level panel organized for IOTA's official launch, H.E. Brune Poirson, Secretary of State for Environment of France, a country whose overseas territories in the Western Indian Ocean include Réunion and Mayotte, highlighted the importance of cooperation: "France welcomes the establishment of IOTA – an inclusive and innovative initiative that has the potential to truly 'move the needle' for biodiversity in the Western Indian Ocean. We also support IOTA's emphasis on regional collaboration as a critical lever in conservation, and the organization's commitment to outreach and education."
It is often forgotten that turtles and tortoises represent some of the most widely trafficked animals among the world's endangered species. IOTA's experts look forward to working closely with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to advance methods designed to combat illegal wildlife trafficking activities. Mr. Eric Alvarez, Acting Assistant Director of International Affairs, USFWS declared: "The International Affairs program at USFWS strives to conserve the world's diverse wildlife and their habitats, with a focus on species of international concern, including tortoises. These incredible creatures face many threats to survival, including the devastating illegal trade. We applaud IOTA's plans to conserve these species and work collaboratively in the region to achieve meaningful conservation outcomes."
From the smallest of invertebrates to our magnificent land mammals and ocean wonders, all ultimately are facing the plight of climate change and habitat loss. The time to act is now. "With a lifespan of over 150 years, Aldabra giant tortoises remind us that we must preserve and enhance our environment over the long run," added Dr. Ross Kiester, Senior Advisor to IOTA.
The Indian Ocean Tortoise Alliance (IOTA) supports tortoise conservation and rewilding in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). IOTA also promotes the tortoise as an icon for ecotourism and an ambassador for enhanced regional cooperation. The organization also supports outreach and education activities.
Operations scheduled to begin early 2019.
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SOURCE Indian Ocean Tortoise Alliance (IOTA)