Human interference, whether it’s poaching, hunting, or developing and otherwise negatively impacting wild environments, is in a large part responsible for the endangerment of species s diverse as the dolphin, South American jaguar, black rhino and sea turtle. Six individuals are on a mission to save these animals now teetering on the brink of extinction, their efforts spotlighted in a WeatherChannel.com series aptly called “Brink,” available online throughout the month of July.
Four minutes or less in length but packing a powerful message, the “Brink” episodes spotlight animal welfare crusaders like dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, the best known of the six thanks to the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” Jacques Flamand, who is working to save black rhinos from poachers, Jill Robinson, who rescues captive moon bears from deplorable conditions in Chinese ‘bile farms,’ and Rebecca Aidworth, who documents the horrific legal slaughter of Canadian seals, hoping that the “eyes of the world” will bring an end to it. Two of the subjects -- Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of big cat conservation nonprofit Panthera, and Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, who is trying to save sea turtles with grassroots education -- shared their stories with MNN.
MNN: How, when and why did you become so passionate about sea turtles?
Wallace J. Nichols: I've been a bit of a turtle (and math) geek since I was a kid. We used to catch snapping turtles in the Chesapeake Bay, paint numbers on their shells, and put them back in the water. When we'd recapture them, we'd use simple algebra to estimate the population size. It was a game, as we didn't know that there was such a thing as "mark/recapture research." I dreamed about catching turtles, I loved it more than anything. A decade later -- and on the other side of the continent, that's essentially what our team does to learn about sea turtles. We catch them and then follow their lives, do some fancier math with the data, then use the information to help the turtles.
How close to extinction are they? Why?
The seven species of sea turtles around the world are a mosaic of success stories and urgent situations. Some populations are on the rise, while others are teetering on the brink, hanging by a thread. And still others are in limbo, neither crashing or growing, kind of in standby. Because sea turtles grow so slowly, mature late and migrate vast distances before reproducing, getting feedback from our conservation efforts requires a lot of patience. If you sign up to save sea turtles, plan on investing a decade for starters--maybe your whole life--before you see the fruits of your labors. The combination of sea turtle life history and threats like hunting for their meat and gathering eggs, accidental capture in many kinds of fishing gear, habitat destruction, and plastic pollution makes modern sea turtle life a challenge.
What is your primary mission and what do you hope to accomplish?
More sea turtles, healthier waterways. Generally, I hope to help people learn something astounding about themselves and our blue planet that they didn't know before. I think that can be an important step individually and collectively towards fixing our problems.
What do you want people to know?
I want people to get IN the water. Any water. And look around, pay attention to how it feels, how it connects them to the people they are with, and to the place. Water in all forms is intimate. It's sounds kind of touchy-feely, I know, but it's also neuroscience. The cognitive benefits and services provided by healthy waterways are enormous, but under-appreciated.
How can people help?
Have a look around and figure out how you want to help keep your water healthy or restore it. Ask questions. Join a local org. People are much more likely to dig in and commit long term to something if it was their own idea and connects directly to their health. Of course, we can also help people find a perfect place to hang out and help sea turtles!
How did you get involved in the “Brink” series?
I've known Neil Katz, the producer of “Brink,” for years. He's watched and listened as the sea turtle work has evolved to this point. And I've watched his career grow. It just made sense to share Grupo Tortuguero's story as part of “Brink.”
Do you think it will have an impact?
It's already had an impact. I love working with our dedicated colleagues throughout Mexico and Latin America, and raising awareness of and support for their efforts always helps.
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