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When Conservation Meets Adventure: Protecting Sea Turtles with SEE Turtles

When Conservation Meets Adventure: Protecting Sea Turtles with SEE Turtles

For many, the majestic image of a sea turtle gliding through the ocean conjures feelings of wonder and admiration. These ancient mariners, some roaming the planet for over 100 million years, play a vital role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems. But sadly, their survival is threatened by human activities.

This is where organizations like SEE Turtles, led by passionate conservationists like Brad Nahill, play a pivotal role. By offering a unique blend of conservation and tourism, SEE Turtles engages people in meaningful experiences, ultimately protecting these magnificent creatures while empowering local communities and promoting responsible travel. My Zalu had the privilege of e-meeting Brad and learning firsthand about the incredible work SEE Turtles does.

Why Are Sea Turtles Important

As quoted in the book co-authored by Brad Nahill, “A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles,” “Sea turtles make excellent subjects for ecotourism.” These charismatic creatures are not just captivating to watch but also vital to the health of our oceans. They are keystone species, meaning their presence significantly impacts their environment and other species around them.

“Sea turtles make excellent subjects for ecotourism. These charismatic, harmless, and photogenic reptiles exhibit predictable behaviors, making sea turtle watching one of the most memorable experiences one can have in the wild.”

A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles

Here are five reasons why sea turtles are truly vital

Prey Control
Different turtle species help regulate their prey populations. For instance:
• Leatherbacks manage jellyfish numbers in the ocean, preventing jellyfish blooms.
• Hawksbills maintain coral reefs by consuming sponges that compete with corals for space.

Beach Nourishment
Turtle nesting contributes to beach health. The nutrients from eggs and unhatched hatchlings provide essential nourishment for coastal vegetation, including beach grasses that stabilize dunes and prevent erosion.

Food Chain Support
Hatchlings serve as a critical food source for various animals, including birds, fish, and mammals. These animals rely on abundant hatchlings during nesting season.

Economic Impact
Coastal economies often depend on turtle-related tourism and diving. Additionally, indigenous communities revere sea turtles as part of their cultural heritage. Witnessing a sea turtle in the wild also has emotional and psychological benefits.

Seagrass Health
Green turtles graze on seagrass, which helps maintain healthy seagrass beds. Healthy seagrass benefits numerous species and aids in carbon storage.

The Threats Sea Turtles Face

Despite their importance, sea turtles face numerous challenges. Some of the challenges include:

  • Habitat Destruction
    Coastal development, pollution, and beach erosion disrupt nesting sites and feeding grounds for sea turtles.
  • Plastic Pollution
    Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags and other debris for jellyfish, their primary food source. Ingesting plastic can be fatal.
  • Climate Change
    Rising sea levels and changing ocean temperatures impact nesting beaches. Warmer sand can lead to skewed sex ratios in hatchlings.
  • Bycatch
    Sea turtles get accidentally caught in fishing gear meant for other species. This can cause injuries or death.
  • Illegal Trade
    The demand for turtle shells, eggs, and meat persists despite conservation efforts. Illegal trade threatens their survival.
  • Light Pollution
    Artificial lights disorient hatchlings, leading them away from the ocean. They may become prey or die from exhaustion.
  • Boat Strikes
    Collisions with boats and ships injure or kill sea turtles, especially near busy coastal areas.

Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these ancient mariners and ensure their survival for generations to come.

Conservation Tourism: Protecting Sea Turtles While Empowering Communities

The travel industry has a powerful impact on the world around us, and when harnessed responsibly, it can become a crucial tool for conservation. Conservation tourism, goes beyond providing a glimpse of nature; it actively contributes to protecting endangered species and supporting local communities. This is precisely why responsible tourism plays a crucial role in global efforts to conserve sea turtles.

“In many turtle habitats, tourism can be the deciding factor between poaching eggs and killing nesting turtles, and actively protecting them. Sea turtle tourism makes these creatures more valuable alive than dead.”

Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles

But how exactly does responsible tourism benefit both nature and local communities?

When tourists choose responsible travel options, they directly contribute to:

  • Funding conservation efforts: Tourist visits generate revenue that directly supports research, monitoring, and protection programs for endangered species like sea turtles.
  • Empowering local communities: Responsible tourism creates jobs and income opportunities for local communities, fostering a sense of ownership and investment in conservation efforts.
  • Deterring poaching: Increased tourist presence can discourage illegal activities like poaching, as communities benefit more from protecting the species alive.
  • Promoting environmental awareness: Responsible tourism companies educate visitors about the importance of conservation and empower them to make sustainable travel choices.

Furthermore, research shows that sustainable tourism is economically beneficial compared to consumptive uses of wildlife.

“Research shows that compared to consumptive uses of sea turtles, such as consuming their meat, eggs, or using their hides, non-consumptive uses like tourism generate more revenue, spread income more evenly within local economies, garner greater support for conservation efforts, and create proportionally more jobs, social development opportunities, and employment opportunities for women.”

Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles

The success of conservation tourism hinges on healthy wildlife populations. Additionally, As noted in “A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles,” while “responsible tourism is crucial for global efforts to save these amazing creatures, uncontrolled tourism can worsen the situation.” This underlines the importance of responsible tourism practices that minimize environmental impact and prioritize the well-being of the ecosystems we visit.

SEE Turtles: Connecting People With Sea Turtles

More than just an organization, SEE Turtles bridges the gap between people and these remarkable creatures, fostering meaningful, personal experiences that inspire action. Their mission goes beyond mere numbers. It’s about the delicate balance of life playing out on nesting beaches worldwide. They empower coastal communities, once disconnected from the sea, to become protectors of millions of hatchlings. Beyond the shores, SEE Turtles fights the illegal trade, urging travelers to choose compassion over fleeting trends.

SEE Turtles actively contributes to sea turtle conservation through a wide array of impactful programs, some of which are briefly described below.

Billion Baby Turtles
This initiative supports sea turtle conservation organizations worldwide, focusing on protecting hatchlings on nesting beaches. In a decade of tireless effort, the Billion Baby Turtles program has saved an astounding 10 million sea turtle hatchlings! Over the years, they’ve granted more than $1 million across 200+ grants, benefiting over 60 organizations working on beaches in 20 countries. SEE Turtles’ goal is to save 1 billion baby turtles.

Sea Turtles & Plastic
Sea turtles face a constant threat at every stage of their lives: plastic pollution. Mistaking it for their favorite food, jellyfish, they ingest plastic debris, leading to consequences as dire as blockages, indigestion, and even death. In the United States alone, over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps enter the environment annually. But SEE Turtles fights to break this cycle, urging each of us to make responsible choices and protect the ocean, our shared home.

Working to remove plastic from sea turtle habitats, SEE Turtles funds local recycling programs that benefit coastal communities. They also run the Travelers Against Plastic campaign. Through their Sea Turtles & Plastic campaign, they’ve funded 12 projects that extracted over 120,000 pounds of plastic from turtle habitats, recycled 30 000 pounds of plastic, supported over 270 people and gave out 40 grants.

Ending the Illegal Tortoiseshell Trade
Despite being globally banned, the illegal tortoiseshell trade threatens endangered hawksbill sea turtles. SEE Turtles is not only saving hatchlings but also combating the illegal tortoiseshell trade with cutting-edge technology and unwavering dedication. The “Too Rare To Wear” program tackles this issue on multiple fronts:

  • The SEE Shell app: Using machine learning, this app empowers tourists and law enforcement to identify tortoiseshell products with 90% accuracy. Over 1,100 people in 23 countries already use it.
  • Community-based education and enforcement: Collaborations with local communities and authorities have led to:
    • Workshops educating hundreds in Colombia and Panama, resulting in over 500 shops surveyed and 30 new “Turtle-Free Souvenir Shops.”
    • Training thousands of Panamanian military personnel to enforce wildlife trafficking laws.
    • Educational programs reaching hundreds of students and investigating tortoiseshell use in cockfighting.
  • Partnerships and outreach: Collaborations with organizations like the Turtle Foundation and WWF have expanded awareness through media campaigns, alternative material training for artisans, and law enforcement workshops promoting the SEE Shell app.

Conservation Tours
Research shows that sea turtle ecotourism generates three times more income than selling turtle parts (such as eggs, meat, and shells). Keeping sea turtles alive benefits both ecosystems and local economies. SEE Turtles offers conservation trips where travelers work alongside local researchers to study and protect sea turtles. Profits from these trips support turtle programs and coastal communities. These tours offer a unique opportunity for travelers to connect with sea turtles, learn about their conservation, and actively contribute to their protection. You can learn more about their tours by visiting this link.

Educational programs
Dedicated to fostering knowledge and safeguarding these remarkable creatures, SEE Turtles collaborates with schools and teachers through their School Program. This program offers a diverse range of resources, including:

  • Free educational materials: Teachers gain access to lesson plans, educational videos, and other resources covering sea turtle species, life cycles, and threats, empowering them to integrate captivating ocean topics into their curriculum.
  • Interactive learning: Engaging field trips allow students to actively participate in sea turtle conservation efforts, fostering a deeper understanding and connection with these ancient mariners.
  • Enriching virtual experiences: Online presentations provide additional knowledge and spark curiosity, while fundraising opportunities empower students to actively contribute to protection initiatives.
  • Multilingual resources: Reaching beyond borders, the program extends its educational reach to Latin American schools by providing resources in Spanish, ensuring a wider audience can learn and connect with these fascinating creatures.

Through this well-rounded program, SEE Turtles equips educators and inspires students to become responsible stewards of our oceans and the magnificent sea turtles that call them home. Visit their website to learn more about their education programs here.

Together We Can Make a Difference

SEE Turtles reminds us that the power to protect these magnificent creatures lies within each of us. Their work highlights the profound impact of community-based conservation, demonstrating how ordinary acts of support can translate into extraordinary change. Whether it’s a donation, a conservation trip, or simply choosing to reduce our plastic footprint, we all contribute to a brighter future where sea turtles flourish. By standing together, empowering communities, and collaborating with organizations like SEE Turtles, we weave a vibrant narrative of hope and resilience. This narrative serves as a powerful testament to the enduring power of collective action in safeguarding the wonders of our natural world.

About Brad Nahill

Brad has worked in sea turtle conservation, ecotourism, and environmental education for 20+ years with organizations including Ocean Conservancy, Rare, Asociacion ANAI (in Costa Rica), and the Academy of Natural Sciences (in Philadelphia). He has also consulted for several ecotourism companies and non-profits, including EcoTeach and Costa Rican Adventures. He is a member of the board of directors of SoCal Sea Turtles and the conservation committee of the Oregon Sierra Club and formerly served on the boards of Sea Turtles Forever and Crooked Trails.

Brad is the editor and lead writer of Sea Turtle Research and Conservation: Lessons From The Field by Elsevier Press (from 2020) and a co-author of the Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles. He is a National Geographic Explorer and was awarded the President’s Award for his work as the chair of the Awards Committee of the International Sea Turtle Society. Brad has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Economics from Penn State University and has taught ecotourism at Mount Hood Community College. He has been director of SEE Turtles (that S-E-E Turtles) since its founding and became President after the organization became an independent nonprofit organization in 2016.

My Zalu

Protecting our planet requires passion, dedication, and most importantly, education. It’s with this belief that My Zalu proudly steps in, empowering the next generation – our children – to become active stewards of the environment.

More than just knowledge, we foster love for the Earth. We’re a profit-for-impact enterprise, meaning our work goes beyond generating revenue. Our mission is to raise environmental awareness among children worldwide, ensuring every child, regardless of language barriers, has the opportunity to learn about and protect our planet in a way that resonates with them.

How do we do it?

  • Engaging and interactive experiences: We go beyond textbooks, utilizing storytelling, hands-on activities, and immersive experiences to spark curiosity and understanding.
  • Celebrating biodiversity: By focusing on local ecosystems, we nurture appreciation for the unique natural world around each child.
  • Empowering voices: We encourage children to create their own environmental stories, fostering ownership and responsibility towards the planet.

From workshops to story creation, our services are diverse:

  • We develop and deliver engaging environmental education programs.
  • We organize hands-on activities, school events, and teacher training workshops.
  • We facilitate the creation of environmental stories written and illustrated by children.
  • We collaborate with organizations to build lasting environmental solutions.

Bridging language barriers is at our core. We translate stories and resources into local languages, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility for all.

My Zalu, Your Zalu, Our Zalu

It’s a collective effort. Join us on this journey to cultivate the next generation of environmental heroes and create a brighter, greener future for all. Explore our website to discover how you can get involved!

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