| Carl Safina
fresh inspiration for ocean conservation
a serial field journal (March 22nd - April 5th, 2004)
Are You Experienced?
Wednesday, Mar 24, 2004 (11:07
You don't "see" your first leatherback turtle, you experience it. And if you're going to experience it, I advise haste. Leatherbacks ply the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. And while their Atlantic numbers are generally believed at least stable, and in some places increasing, they have crashed in parts of the Indian and especially the Pacific. With a decline of 95 percent in the last 20 years, some people believe our world's largest turtle is doomed to imminent extinction throughout our world's largest ocean.
Our job is to prevent that from happening. And of course, each of us will play only a fractional role in that effort. Yet we will apply ourselves to the task, enormous and appalling as it is. Sandy will fly the plane that will carry Laura Sarti, the Mexican scientist who has devoted her life to understanding and protecting the leatherback when it nests on Mexican shores. I will record our findings. Others, with much difficulty, will endeavor to educate local people about the critical necessity of letting the turtles' eggs hatch rather than taking them for food. Some will struggle to buy and protect nesting beaches, courting funders and buying out resentful land speculators. Others will tell fishermen that their profession must change if it is to survive at all. Some will track the turtles with satellites, astonishing even themselves with new revelations of the leatherback's trans-oceanic travel. Connecting South America to Europe, Papua to Monterey Bay, leatherbacks are just now telling us that, since the time hungry dinosaurs were a nesting sea turtle's worst problem, it's always been a small world. Their mute plea, as they attempt to carry on as always, is that we will understand the intimate connections of this water-bound world.
Laura Sarti Scans the Beach for Nesting Leatherbacks
Beyond doubt, the Pacific leatherback is in trouble. But doomed? Some animals in worse shape (even some sea turtle populations) have been rescued in the last decades by intensive intervention. The giant Pacific leatherback poses a giant challenge, though, because to be saved anywhere it must be saved everywhere. Saving this awesome beast in the Pacific Ocean requires cooperation from industrial fishing captains who invisibly kill them in their nets and lines, impoverished people who visualize in a nesting turtle only eggs and meat, and politicians who must see in their turtle nesting beaches national pride and moral responsibility.
The main note of urgency is that Malaysia's nesting leatherback population, once the single densest leatherback rookery in the world has, in just the last couple of years, utterly vanished. Gone. It can happen.
This challenge is daunting. The scale of the solution miniaturizes the efforts of any person. But it creates a need of unmatched sanctity the call to save the living. The problem has been created by individuals working separately, and the solution, if it comes, will come from individuals working together. Any opportunity to help is a small chance to do something really worthwhile while we breathe.
That brings us together here. Though the trend has been downward with breathtaking speed, every three to four years leatherbacks have a "good year," with many more females nesting. Word is that this year, because of cooler water temperatures, more of the remaining leatherbacks are coming ashore to nest. This is a "good" year. How "good" it is, we shall see.