If you've watched Animal Planet you know that odds are generally working against sea turtles.
From the moment an egg is deposited in a sandy nest on a tropical beach, to the first time a baby turtle touches the sea, to decades later when she returns as an adult to lay her own eggs on very same beach, life is an endless series of life-and-death challenges for a sea turtle.
Nature is stacked against survival, which is why a mother turtle lays thousands of eggs during her lifetime in order to simply replace herself. Predators include dozens of species of crabs, beetles, ants, birds, fish, and sharks. Jaguars, pigs, wild dogs, and raccoons are even on the list of turtle eaters.
For millions of years, sea turtles handled it all just fine.
Yet, when you add modern humans to the mix, the balance suddenly tipped towards oblivion. Over the past century all seven species of sea turtle and their eggs have been hunted, carved, and eaten to the point that many populations are considered vulnerable to extinction. Getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and on hooks just adds to their woes. Throw in plastic pollution, boat collisions, and runaway coastal development on their nesting beaches and you've got a situation requiring intervention on a global scale.
But this isn't a bad news story. That's because over the past several decades a massive global network of sea turtle scientists, advocates, conservationists, and even lawyers has evolved to work day and night to bring them back. These heroes have been literally working around the clock, saving one egg--one baby turtle--at a time. At other times they'll invest months to rehabilitate a single adult animal before returning it to the ocean. Every turtle released into the ocean is a moment of joy for everyone involved. It never gets old.
Think about it--while you sleep tonight, thousands of scientists, technicians and volunteers are saving sea turtles on the beaches of the world.
These projects are run on "Turtle Time." Slow, steady, and tenacious wins the race. It takes as long as twenty-five years for a turtle to reach maturity, and return on that turtle-y kind of investment can come slowly.
Turtle people are above all patient and hard-working. Many projects have been steadily protecting turtles for more than thirty years. Their work is paying off. Some turtle populations are now on the rise after nose-diving to near extinction before that.
The Black Sea Turtle Project in Michoacan, Mexico celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year and is experiencing its best season since its inception after watching the numbers of nesting female turtles bounce along the bottom of the graph for a decade.
Its sister project, Grupo Tortuguero, working to safeguard black turtles in feeding grounds a thousand miles away in Baja, is turned fifteen in January.
Turtle hunters and poachers in Mexico have had a change of heart and are now turtle protectors and guides. Everyone reports seeing more sea turtles in the ocean and on the beaches.
Now is not the time to let up, though. To get sea turtles back to their former abundance and to restore their ecological role in the ocean this is just half time.
We know exactly what to do. We just need to continue to execute the game plan.
Along with my friends Brad Nahill at SEE the WILD and Fabien Cousteau at Plant a Fish, we came up with the idea of the Billion Baby Turtles Project to help support groups working on the sea turtle front lines. To make a million more adult turtles we need a billion more baby turtles. It's a one in a thousand situation out there, roughly speaking.
By creatively connecting individuals and small businesses with grassroots projects working to increase sea turtle production, we are helping overcome donor fatigue, burn out, and other second half challenges.
In the coming years we will collaborate widely to further expand the global sea turtle tribe, widen the base of donors through micro-philanthropy, and throw our support behind the men and women working for turtles on the front lines in their coastal communities around the world.
Forty years ago sea turtle pioneer, Dr. Archie Carr, described what it would take to save sea turtles.
"In the long run, marine turtles, like the seas themselves, will be saved only by wholehearted international cooperation at the government level. While waiting for it to materialize, the critical tactical needs seem to me to be three in number: more sanctuaries, more research, and a concerted effort by all impractical, visionary, starry-eyed, and anti-progressive organizations, all little old ladies in tennis shoes, and all persons able to see beyond the ends of their noses..."
That is almost legendary substance.
While high-level official negotiations continue, and the large agencies and organizations fight for pro-ocean and pro-turtle policies, why don't we all do our small part for sea turtles?
A billion baby sea turtles?
Why don't YOU lead one to the water?
Follow Wallace J Nichols on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wallacejnichols