In the Bocas del Toro province of Panama, nesting leatherback turtles ignore cracks of thunder on a dark beach. Researchers attach a satellite transmitter to the shell of one of the massive reptiles, which will allow them to track its movement as it migrates thousands of miles across the Western Hemisphere.
“They are truly the definition of a gentle giant and are the most prehistoric-looking animals ever,” says Lexie Beach, who works for the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) in Gainesville, FL.
Lexie with a leatherback turtle in Panama.
She’s right—they do look prehistoric, and for a good reason. Sea turtle fossils trace back to when dinosaurs were still a thing. While they’ve been around for over 100 million years, sea turtles have gotten close to disappearing entirely, Just like our other Jurassic friends.
“It’s just been in these last hundred years that their numbers have absolutely plummeted because of humans. They are endangered because of us, so I feel like it’s our job to help them recover,” Lexie says.
That’s the purpose of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Founded in 1959, STC is the oldest organization of its kind in the world. It has two main project sites in Panama and Costa Rica where preservation efforts focus on turtle nesting habitats, tracking and local education.
To help raise funds and awareness, The Elephant Pants (TEP) has teamed with STC to launch a limited-edition sea turtle design.
With every turtle item sold, TEP is donating two dollars to STC. Customers will also receive a Turtle Savers Package, which includes an STC membership and water bottle, along with their sea turtle-saving new clothes.
The best part? With that STC membership comes your very own sea turtle. Not to take home and keep in your tub, obviously... Instead, you get the information for one of STC’s tagged turtles, and you can track where the dude swims using satellites and your personal computer. Sweeeeet.
Courtesy of STC volunteer Celeste Williams
Similar to elephant poaching for ivory, turtles are animals which are culturally and historically harvested for their bodies. This makes preservation efforts dependent on community outreach—STC’s efforts in sea turtles’ coastal habitats are like the African Wildlife Foundation's efforts in elephant habitats, which makes TEP's collaboration with STC so fitting.
“Today, the people in these regions are proud of the sea turtles they share their beaches with and are very passionate about protecting them,” says Lexie of the local communities in Panama and Costa Rica.
Georgina from STC teaching children in Panama about tracking.
“If the local community doesn’t care about protecting the endangered sea turtles who nest on their beaches, you can’t make a difference,” says Lexie. “We had to teach them that turtles are worth far more alive than they are dead,” she says, referring to the Bocas del Toro Province of Panama.
Sea turtles aren’t just cute, though. They’re actually extremely important to the marine ecosystem, which means they are incredibly important to humans.
Two major roles of sea turtles are their prevention of dune erosion and their maintenance of seagrass beds underwater. When sea turtles nest in sand dunes, the nutrients from their eggs and activity strengthens the vegetation on the dunes, which then keeps the sand from eroding. Dunes are important to humans because of the protection they provide coastal populations from major storms and tides. Underwater, sea turtles feed on seagrass beds, which are home to other marine life like fish. Without sea turtles' natural processes contributing to the food chain, humans are likely to be shortchanged.
Advice from Lexie? “Get involved in any way you can…Study your favorite animals, visit an accredited zoo or aquarium, volunteer or intern with an environmental organization, or hold a fundraiser at your school. There are so many ways to get involved and the future of animals depends on the next generation of budding conservationists!”
- Tags: Animal Conservation