The conditions under which the use of sea turtles by humans evolved have largely changed. Northwestern Mexico was once one of the most difficult regions on the North American continent for human survival. Water and food were limited and seasonal, and human societies were largely nomadic. Sea turtles were common and hunting once led to a feast laden with mystical symbolism, solidarity and necessity. As human populations have grown and technology has aided food and water gathering, marine resources have declined due to overexploitation. The symbolism of the sea turtle feast is now often one of power, virility, lawlessness and wealth. Yet it also retains some elements of spirituality, group unity and tradition. Extinction of several populations of sea turtle is imminent. The furtive hunting of and black market trade in sea turtles are among the primary threats to their survival in northwestern Mexico. In response, international conservation efforts have promoted the idea of the sea turtle as a conservation icon, representing declines in ocean health and productivity as well as hope for recovery, rather than as simply a source of income or food. This has led to a growing grassroots marine conservation movement that has demonstrated nascent successes by promoting the many facets of the human relationship to sea turtles and other marine species. We will discuss the challenges and lessons of this campaign and present a personal view of the difficulties inherent in working at the interface of science and advocacy.