Wallace J. Nichols, a fellow at the California Academy of Science who goes simply by J, is as passionate about the entire ocean as he is about turtles, and thinks we are on the verge of a new way of looking at ocean science. His “Blue Mind: Oceanophilia” theory posits that the next step towards understanding our water planet is linking neuroscience with marine biology, emotion with science. But he still gets excited tracking sea turtles. His tracking of one sea turtle, Adelita, has led both Nichols and science to new conclusions about marine life around the globe.
Local myth holds that a sea turtle heart, disembodied, will beat for as long as 20 minutes, pumping non-existent blood to non-existent organs. I now know this to be a fact.
In my profession, words like dedication, passion, and love of nature are deemed overly sentimental, kind of soft. In science, deep personal relationships interfere with goals. Some say that it’s hard if not impossible to maintain one’s status as a respectable scientist and also be an effective advocate for the ocean. Some say that to restore nature is only a matter of dollars and enforcement. Then again, some say that’s all bunk.
Here is what I know: If we are to repair what is broken in nature, if we are to replace its heart with one that still beats, it will take a revolution full of passionate celebration of nature and commitment to and compassion towards each other. On the Baja peninsula, within a growing number of people who inhabit the towns along its shores, you’ll find the beating heart of a revolution. The conservation leaders in Baja respect and understand nature and they have rallied to help protect sea turtles in their own economic and cultural—maybe even spiritual—interest.
We have a long way to go. But, the revolution is spreading one person at a time, and it certainly goes beyond Baja and beyond sea turtles. From efforts to stanch the flow of plastic into our oceans, to beating back climate change, to changing the things we eat, to protecting invaluable coral reefs, there is an ocean revolution raging. Adelita didn’t ignite the flame, but she surely fanned it and sparked a few small fires along the way.
Without question, the world—and I—owe a great deal to Adelita. She was a sea turtle who was merely adhering to a millions-of-years-old ritual. She was going home, from Mexico to Japan. But she took us with her.
Adelita’s exact fate, however, remains a mystery. After she reached the coastal waters of Japan, I continued to receive tracking points from her transmitter, each set more peculiar than the next. The first coordinates fell in a scattershot pattern, inconsistent with those of a turtle making its way along a coastline, as I expected to see. Then, for a time, nothing. Then, there she was again. This time moving in a straight line on a direct path to the port of Sendai, Japan, but far faster than any turtle could possibly swim. Eventually, the signal disappeared for good.
Curious to see the place where Adelita made land, in 1999 I trekked to Sendai, GPS in hand. When I reached the coordinates I’d programmed in—the exact point of Adelita’s arrival, her last known location on Earth—I found myself on the dock of a small Japanese fishing village, Isohama, a fleet of squid boats lining the harbor.
I cannot say for certain what happened to her or her transmitter. She may still be out there. Deep inside, I believe she is. One thing is certain, her heart still beats. In places like Baja and Sendai and Sydney and Santa Cruz, all across the world, the heart of an ocean revolution still beats.
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