The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is a global leader in the study and protection of sea turtles. STC’s sole mission is to ensure the survival of sea turtles through research, education, advocacy and protection of the habitats upon which they depend. Founded in 1959 under the direction of renowned ecologist and University of Florida professor Dr. Archie Carr, STC is the oldest group in the world dedicated to sea turtle research and conservation. Based in Florida with field offices throughout the Caribbean, STC has spawned a global movement to protect sea turtles and developed successful models for studying and protecting sea turtles that now are in use around the world.
STC has spearheaded numerous successful sea turtle conservation efforts and campaigns here in Florida, and this year we celebrate 20 years since STC led the successful campaign to create a sea turtle license plate!
In the mid-90s, Florida’s fledgling Marine Turtle Protection Program was fighting for survival. The state program had no dedicated funding source and was scraping by on bare-minimum annual appropriations and small grants from another wildlife agency. As a result, sea turtle research, recovery and regulatory efforts in Florida were at risk.
In 1994, STC partnered with sea turtle groups and advocates across Florida to launch a statewide campaign to create the sea turtle specialty license plate, which would establish a much-needed permanent source of funding for sea turtle regulatory programs. STC spent two years carrying out a petition drive to collect the required 10,000 signatures from Florida vehicle owners who pledged to purchase the new tag once it became available.
After meeting the requirements to create a new specialty tag and crafting legislation delineating how funds would be used, STC worked with the Florida Legislature to gain near-unanimous approval for the turtle tag during the 1997 Legislative Session.
The Helping Sea Turtles Survive specialty license plate became official in 1997, when it was passed with overwhelming support of the Florida Legislature. The tag was approved by a 35-0 vote in the Senate and a 116-3 vote in the House of Representatives. The final bill was signed by Governor Lawton Chiles.
Now, two decades later, the Helping Sea TurtlesSurvive license plate is the second highest selling specialty plate in the state (behind just the University of Florida tag) and the top selling environmental plate. It’s almost impossible to drive on Florida’s roads without catching a glimpse of the now iconic ocean blue and sand-colored plate featuring a loggerhead hatchling crawling toward the surf. But the sea turtle tag has done more than just turn a few heads.
Today, revenue generated by the sea turtle tag stretches a long way. Seventy percent of the plate’s proceeds serve as the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and WildlifeConservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program (MTPP). The remaining funds are routed through STC, which distributes funding annually through the Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP). Since its establishment, the STGP has been able to award more than $4 million in grants to more than 230 sea turtle research, conservation and education projects in Florida.
The STGP recently awarded $296,838 to 26 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2015-2016 grant funding cycle.
And support for the turtle tag has strengthened over the years. While sales of most specialty plates decreased during the recent economic downturn, the sea turtle plate consistently remained on the list of top sellers. STC credits the long-term success of the plate to the popularity of sea turtles and the passionate support of sea turtle organizations and volunteers around Florida. By purchasing the plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save endangered sea turtles and their habitats.
The success of the Sea Turtle License Plate shows how much can be achieved when Floridians join forces to preserve what is important. Every time someone makes the switch to the sea turtle license plate, we create a better future for Florida’s sea turtles. Together, we are helping sea turtles survive every time we drive.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle License Plate and the Sea Turtle Grants Program, please visit Helping Sea Turtles.