What drove Wallace J. Nichols to fight for sea turtles, to devote this life to their conservation, protection and recovery?
"It's about love," he says, "I love these animals. I love working with them."
Everything from the pressure of coastal building to bycatch in fishermen's nets to what Nichols calls an "insatiable" market for turtle meat and eggs contributed to the decline in sea turtle populations around the world. In fact, according to Nichols, at one point all seven species of the reptile were considered vulnerable to extinction.
"There were just a few hundred animals coming up and laying their eggs on a beach," Nichols says, "where there used to be tens of thousands."
Neither science not the law had helped sea turtle populations enough, so instead Nichols tried something novel. Despite the fact that he and other activists had received threats, he reached out to the poachers, the men and women hunting the turtles for their meat and eggs.
"The only people," he said, "who are going to be able to fix this are the people doing the turtle hunting." So along with others, he founded Grupo Tortuguero in 1999, which works with fishermen and their families in northwest Mexico.
Nichols started by arguing that saving sea turtles was in the interest of both sides--hunters and scientists. The group grew, and meetings began attracting everyone from convicted poachers to government officials, according to Nichols. Projects sprouted up elsewhere, and more than that, wild sea turtle populations and nesting site numbers began to rebound.
Many species of sea turtle remain at risk, and scientists advocating for them continue to be the targets of violence. Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 24-year-old biologist working as a beach monitor, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Costa Rica in May. The crime remains unsolved.
Nichols continues to advocate for sea turtles and the environment. His Billion Baby Turtles Project hopes to protect a billion baby sea turtles in the wild, and his Blue Marbles Project seeks to raise awareness of how fragile the earth's ecosystems are by having individuals pass on blue marbles to others as tokens of gratitude.
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