Timescales and Perspectives Are Relative: Shifting Baselines and Sea Turtles
Shifting baselines define broad changes in ecosystems or their components over time, and the shifting baseline syndrome describes how we perceive what is natural and how we register (or fail to accurately register) such change. Most shifting baselines have been induced by anthropogenic impacts, and today they tend to be accelerated by human activities, making the respective timeframes of what we take to be the “normal” ever shorter. This also complicates determining what the original, historical condition was, when decisive interventions should take place and what management goals should be sought. A toolbox of traditionally untapped approaches coupled with scientific methods and new scientific disciplines devoted to reconstructing the past enables us to “go back in time.” A Mediterranean sea turtle nesting beach is taken as a case in point to highlight an accelerating habitat change. The timescales of environmental change (both shifting and “lifting” baselines) and of policy-maker terms of office are out of synch. The term “disproportionality principle” is introduced to describe the often strict regulation of relatively trivial environmental matters but the apparent lack of willpower and action regarding major impacts. The call is for researchers to be more proactive in expressing their insights and recommendations, to invoke the constantly improving policy frameworks, and to help bridge the science-policy gap.