Exploris Gathers Support From Coney Islander In Costa Rica
IT’S a long way from his native Coney Island near Ardglass to the sun-kissed beaches of Costa Rica in Central America, but Sean Clifford who is thousands of miles away is totally up to speed with the Save Exploris campaign. And backs it to the hilt!
Since the news broke a few weeks ago that Ards BoroughCouncil were planning to pull the plug on Northern Ireland’s premier marine aquarium, Sean joined the ranks of the many thousands of protesters on Facebook who have called for a new lease of life for the sticken aquarium and hopes the powers that be see the bigger picture.
Sean has a special attachment to Exploris as he studied to become a marine biologist and spent much time there while at the QUB Belfast marine laboratory located in Portaferry.
Speaking to Down News from Costa Rica, Sean said: “ I studied Marine Biology graduating in 2006 and really enjoyed my time spent at Exploris in Portaferry. I discovered the turtle project about this time which I am now currently engaged in. It is called La Tortuga Feliz (LTF). It was on the recommendation of a friend I worked with in Exploris. I volunteered there for five weeks in 2010. It was the first part of a round the world trip.
“LTF has been going for seven years. It is located on a remote island in the Carribean in Costa Rica. It is a non-profit organisation and with the help of volunteers, we patrol the beaches looking to rescue turtles and their eggs from being poached by local people. Eggs can sell for a dollar each which is good money in that area especially since a nest can have as many as 120 eggs.
“LTF has helped release over 500,000 baby turtles in seven years. It does fantastic work and employs local men who were formerly poachers themselves. It helps develop an under-privileged community sustainably and educates kids on the destructive impact poaching has. This educative role is vitally important for the sustainable survival of these communities as well as the survival of the turtles.
“During my time there as a volunteer I asked my boss if he ever needed help to run the place to give me a shout. He did in late 2011 and I began working there since March 2012. It is an unbelievable place. No electricity, no phone signal, no roads or shops. It is very basic living but very enjoyable. It really is quite primitive. It has to be one of the best jobs in the world.”
Sean explained that he has travelled to Central America on a number of occasions during the last few years and has lived on a Honduran island called Utila for six months as well volunteering at an iguana station and scuba diving.
The tutle project has saved 500,000 turtles making a huge contribution to the sustainability of the species under pressure from human exploitation.
He said: “I have travelled in Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala as well. They are fantastic, beautiful places with friendly people. Not violent like you may see on the news. When travelling about, you just need to use common sense. It is very cheap to travel around as well. You could do a month over here living very well for 600 quid.
“For my long-term plans I have no idea what I will be doing. I am still promoting LTF but am returning home in a week to embark on a new venture.
“I used to work in Exploris and when I heard it was closing I thought it was a disaster. Northern Ireland has a beautiful coastline and not have an aquarium to showcase its treasures would be a retrograde step. It will certainly impact badly on the local and regional economy.
“Portaferry and the peninsula will suffer greatly. Exploris has educated countless thousands of students and others from all over Northern Ireland in marine biology and other areas in the world about our marine environment. When you have friends and visitors from overseas, Exploris is one of the first things you take to show them! With Exploris gone that unique source of education will be lost and will be detrimental to marine conservation in Northern Ireland.
“We are all thankfully more savvy about our footprint on the environment. Exploris helps teach young people about our sea and they are able to learn responsible behaviors. They need touch tanks and not touch screens!
“Exploris has not had the investment it needed to grow during the last ten years. Ards Borough Council were unable to do that. But if Exploris is recognized as a regional asset it can get the support it needs to update and become a truly world-class attraction. Portaferry has world-class research being done in the nearby QUB station. It has a world class, marine renewable, energy project in The Narrows with the water turbine.
“The area has also been designated as a protected EU Marine Conservation Zone because of its marine diversity. Exploris is in a prime position to be updated and compliment an area where exciting things are happening. I hope people in Stormont and elsewhere recognise the potential Exploris has. We need ambition and vision. For Northern Ireland not have an aquarium is very shortsighted and to be frank, embarrassing.
“After all this Exploris also acts as Northern Ireand’s only seal sanctuary. During pupping season, I know every other day, Exploris gets calls about stranded pups. The team that work there do a difficult job amazingly well. If Exploris closes, it will hurt our seal populations already affected by threats such as pollution and fishing nets.”
Referring to the beautiful island of Utila in the Caribean, Sean spoke of the magnificent coral reefs which are under threat from pollution and warming of the oceans. He said that locally there was a good awareness program being taught in their dive shops to protect the reefs from divers and people with who enjoy the surrounding coastline and they are aware of their environmental responsibly. Sean was acutely aware that with the loss of Exploris, Northern Ireland will have lost a valuable and vital educative resource.
He added: “The closure of Exploris will affect everyone in Northern Ireland. It sends out a very negative message. We need as many people as possible talking to their representatives to stop Exploris being closed. Education, environment and economy will all be affected. And these strands are all closely interlinked. Unfortunately politicians, bureaucrats and managers of budgets seem to be locked into their own narrower views in relation to the Exploris issue.
“I am keen to use social media to support the Exploris campaign and I started I #explorisgoneglobal on Twitter to raise awareness. Everyone is very welcome to support the campaign. My name is @thejiffster.
“We are heading for an uncertain time with Exploris but we must stay on track and the supporters must do what is necessary to keep Exploris open and prospering. It is a brilliant facility and must be saved for future generations to come and to enjoy.”
Saving 500,000 turtles in Costa Rica is a huge environmental project?
They have a future thanks to the efforts of Sean Clifford and others.
Saving one aquarium in Northern Ireland should be a lot easier!