After I graduated from college with a degree in environmental economics, I knew that I needed some real-world experience. I’ve long had a fascination with Latin America so I searched for conservation projects in that region where I could volunteer my time and learn. I had no special connection to sea turtles or background in biology but most of what I found available was volunteer programs working on nesting beaches. These turtle projects need a lot of help to cover long stretches of beach every night, along with working in hatcheries, educational programs, beach cleanups, and research.
So that’s what I chose but back then, I had no idea this decision would guide my career for the next twenty years. Those first nights on dark beaches working with giant leatherbacks taught me many lessons, such as interacting with local residents, braving weather and exhaustion to complete the work, and working in teams for a shared goal. It has now been a long time since I walked the beach every night but those lessons stay with me and were the reason I wanted to bring together people from across this field to share their experiences and lessons they learned.
Working with these extraordinary marine reptiles is much more than walking miles every night on a nesting beach. Our new book, Sea Turtle Research and Conservation, provides real world examples of a variety of facets of this field. We look at managing tourism in places like Costa Rica, Grenada, and Sri Lanka, how one group in Curacao is turning plastic waste from a threat to sea turtles into a way to protect them, and what it’s like to work in a community that initially is not in favor of protecting sea turtles.
We cover some of the most challenging aspects of sea turtle research and conservation. One chapter looks at ways that conservationists are working with fishermen to find ways that keep turtles out of nets while not costing fishermen their livelihoods. Another chapter has great examples of how advocates are addressing the trade in sea turtles and their parts in Colombia, Africa, and globally. Finally, we have practical advice for practitioners and students in this field on how to raise funds for this work and combining new technologies with old fashioned observation.
This book is one way I am giving back to all those mentors who helped me learn, grow, and thrive in this field. I hope that my current and future colleagues find these experiences useful in their work, now and in the future.