Troy Mayne

July 15, 2013

By Wallace J. Nichols,

Feature Photo: Troy Mayne, OceanicImagery

The producer of the new Weather Channel series called BRINK asked about our team’s work over the past three decades to save Pacific sea turtles. 

I told him that it’s about love. Love for animals, special places, and people. That’s what makes the difference.
He listened, and nodded. In that New Yorker sort of way (as a native New Yorker, I can say that). But I could tell he knew exactly what I meant.
I guess it’s no surprise that they named their sea turtle episode “It’s About Love”.
Have a look, and check out the other 3 minute films about fellow scientists and advocates who love big cats, rhinos, bears, dolphins and seals.

Warning: Some of the footage in this short film dates back to nearly two decades ago when Lisa Landers joined us in Baja for a documentary she was making. At the research station after a long day on the water we got a call to come by a fisherman’s house to pick up some tissue samples for genetic analysis. That’s one of the ways we collected sample, information, tags and built trust.
When we arrived, they were slaughtering a juvenile black sea turtle. I had never seen the full process before. I knelt down and took it all in. Lisa asked if she could film the process and was told “yes, as long as you don’t film faces.”
A large, very sharp knife easily and deftly cut the turtle’s head off and detached it’s plastron and flippers. When the heart was removed it continued beating for a long time. All of the turtle pieces placed in a large plastic bowl kept moving. The butchering happened fast, and while my gut instinct was to dive in and rescue the turtle, my rational brain convinced me that squatting like a statue would be the better choice.
The memory of the experience was seared into my neurons. We also left with tissue samples preserved in DMSO and the turtle’s stomach in a zip-loc bag.
Fifteen years later I know that was the right decision. A growing sea turtle conservation movement grew from the trust built between conservation scientists and people who once hunted, sold, and ate sea turtles. We called ourselves Grupo Tortuguero ( 
We learned the art of community-based conservation from our colleagues living and working in Colola and Maruata, Michoacan and applied the same model along the coast of the Baja California peninsula. Years later, because of these collaborations, black sea turtles are having their best nesting season since the 1970’s.
While I got the call to tell our sea turtle story this time, the heroes of these conservation successes are the thousands of people who have protected sea turtles one at a time over the past several decades, from Michoacan to Baja, and around the world. Their passion is contagious and their love for these animals and each other is obvious–show up for the annual International Sea Turtle Symposium and you’ll see what I mean. This powerful sentiment and its synonyms are what drive sea turtle conservation.
While we can and should create rules and regulations, clever economic incentives, and pay people to do the “right thing” and promote more sustainable choices, what fuels this movement is something money can’t buy.
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