By Jesse Senko, WildTribe Member
“How do you stay positive when so many turtles are dying on a daily basis?” asked one of the Earthwatch volunteers. I paused for a second then told her the truth: “I cry myself to sleep most nights”, I said softly.
I’ll never forget the last field season of my masters research at Laguna San Ignacio, a small bay located off the Pacific coast ofBaja California Sur, Mexico. I went there to track the fine scale movements of sea turtles, my dream job, but quickly found myself marking and counting hundreds of dead turtles in the span of a few weeks. The turtles were drowning after becoming entangled in gillnets.
I remember vividly the first night it really hit me. We were out tracking turtles and came across a fisher’s gillnet. We checked the length of the net for turtles but didn’t find any. Even though I was exhausted, I didn’t sleep that night. Eventually, I could hear the waves right up against our cottage. It was high tide; the net was underwater. The following morning we retuned to the area where we found the net and there were two floating turtles nearby – dead.
“What a shame”, my dad muttered to himself.
One morning a fisherman unexpectedly brought me a small turtle he had found alive in his net. We named her “Bujia Bebe” (baby spark-plug). She was the smallest and most beautiful turtle I had ever seen. I tracked Bujia Bebe for five days – she covered the entire lagoon – moving farther and faster than any other turtle I had tracked. Then, in an instant, she disappeared. But she left me with something far more valuable than any amount of data: hope.
I asked my close friend and colleague Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (a co-founder of SEEtheWILD) about this hope/despair dichotomy, as he’s counted thousands of dead turtles in Baja over the decades and, like me, has tracked some live turtles to their death. A decade earlier Dr. Nichols tracked the first sea turtle across the Pacific Ocean from Baja to Japan. Her name was Adelita and just before completing her transpacific journey she was captured by a fishing boat. Her last GPS reading came from a fishing dock in Japan.
“Pour yourself into finding solutions,” he said. “And pay special attention to the joyful moments.” I never forgot that.
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