SEE Turtles was launched in 2008 as the world’s first effort to protect sea turtles through ecotourism. The SEE Turtles mission is to protect endangered sea turtles throughout Latin America and the world by supporting community-based conservation efforts. Since its launch, the organisation has helped save sea turtles in many different ways such as:
- Saving more than 1 million turtle hatchlings at conservation projects across Latin America
- Generating more than US $1 Million in benefits for turtle conservation and local communities through tours, donations, and in-kind services
- Training more than 100 teachers and community leaders on sea turtle educational techniques, and funding field trips for more than 2,000 students living near turtle nesting beaches.
Chi Lo spoke with Brad Nahill, Co-Founder & President of SEE Turtles for World Sea Turtle Day.
CHI: It’s World Sea Turtles Day on June 16. What are you doing to recognise this day and why is it important? Why are turtles so important to our ecosystem, and what is about turtles that made you want to dedicate your career to protecting them?
BRAD: World Sea Turtle Day was named in honor of the birthday of Archie Carr, known as the “godfather of sea turtles.” He was a pioneer in studying and protecting these turtles and everyone who works with them owes him a huge debt of gratitude. This year, we are helping to organise “Sea Turtle Week” which ends on World Sea Turtle Day, and every day will feature a different species and threat that they face.>
Celebrating and protecting sea turtles is important to both human communities and the habitats where turtles live. Hawksbill sea turtles help coral reefs by controlling sea sponges that compete with coral for space. Green turtles graze seagrass beds, which helps keep them healthy. Nutrients that sea turtles bring from the ocean to the beach helps support coastal vegetation. And turtle hatchlings and eggs provide important sources of food to many predators. They also benefit humans; many communities rely on turtle tourism for income and jobs, a number of indigenous communities celebrate them, and seeing a sea turtle in the wild is an emotional experience that can change people’s lives.
CHI: Plastic, pollution, and poaching are some very real and serious threats to sea turtles. Can you educate our readers about these issues? Are there any common misconceptions you would like to take this opportunity to address?
BRAD: Sure! Plastic is a huge and growing issue for sea turtles, as they interact with it during their whole lives. The mothers and hatchlings crawl through polluted beaches to nest and head to the ocean. They confuse plastic bags for jellyfish and can get caught in plastic like six pack rings. One of the biggest plastic threats is ghost nets –discarded fishing nets that keep catching fish and animals long after they are lost to fishing boats. One misconception is around straws; they are certainly wasteful in most cases, but generally they are not a major threat to sea turtles.
Even though it is illegal in most places at this point, many people continue to consume sea turtle eggs and meat and use their shells for things like jewellery to sell to tourists. There is a misconception in many places that the eggs are a natural aphrodisiac though the science doesn’t support that. What we do as an organisation is to try to benefit the local communities through tourism and supporting efforts of local organisations to protect their beaches. The good news is that after decades of efforts by millions of people and hundreds of organisations, turtle numbers are starting to recover in many places around the world.
CHI: You co-wrote the World Travel Guide to Sea Turtles. Can you share with us some ways that the travel industry can help to protect the species? What should travellers be more conscious of in particular?
BRAD: There are many great ways that travellers and the travel industry can support sea turtle conservation. One of the best ways is to help reduce demand for turtleshell products. We have nearly 100 tourism companies participating in our Too Rare To Wear campaign, which has free resources to educate travelers about these products and how to recognize and avoid them.
Other ways the travel industry and travellers can help protect sea turtles is to reduce plastic waste, by using reusable products, recycling where possible, and participating in cleanup activities while traveling. Reducing the carbon footprint of travel is also a good way to support sea turtles; climate change is a major threat to these animals and all animals in the ocean. We also have a set of tips for travellers to help protect turtles in and out of the water, for example by not touching them and giving them space underwater and not taking flash photos at night on the nesting beaches.
And of course a great way to support sea turtles while travelling is to join a conservation tour that offers hands-on opportunities while supporting conservation efforts. We work with a number of operators to offer trips all around Latin America to help with these animals.
CHI: There are so many choices on the market – do you have any favourite products and places that are especially turtle-friendly?
BRAD: Our Billion Baby Turtles program has a bunch of great sponsors that are eco-friendly and support sea turtle conservation. Each of them saves one or more hatchlings with every purchase. Some of the products, like the Billion Baby Turtles bracelet from Pura Vida Bracelets have raised tens of thousands of dollars. Singer Vance Joy sells a tote bag with a design he drew that has also raised thousands to save hatchlings.
CHI: What can we do to support SEE Turtles and your conservation efforts?
BRAD: In addition to joining a tour or our Too Rare To Wear campaign that we’ve already mentioned, we also have a program where people can help save sea turtle hatchlings, 10 for every $1 donated through our Billion Baby Turtles campaign. We’ve helped save more than 1.7 million hatchlings so far with another million more this year. Also, divers can learn about how to help protect sea turtles while diving with our new Divers For Turtles website. We’ve just launched a new Divers For Turtles pledge where people who sign can win great prizes, get discounts on our store, and more.
CHI: Thank you so much, Brad!