Leatherback sea turtles have been around for tens of millions of years. Nature Seekers has been around for only 22 years. But if it wasn’t for Nature Seekers, we might not have Leatherbacks. At least not here.
Matura, on Trinidad’s northeast coast, is one of the best places in the world to see Leatherback Turtles. But before the 1990s, it was one of their deadliest nesting beaches. Locals often killed females full of eggs. Then outsiders came. And they brought their friends. Many turtles died just to lend one flipper to a cook-pot. (The whole turtle weighs about 800 pounds, so people often took just a little to lug down the beach and vast quantities of meat were wasted, as, of course, was the turtle’s life and breeding future.)
Twenty years on, it’s a different beach-ball. Hundreds of people stream in to see the turtles nightly, but only under the watchful guidance of the local group called Nature Seekers, started by the visionary Suzan Lakhan Baptiste, who somehow cared and saw the economic potential in letting the turtles live. Needless to say, everyone told her she was crazy. Courageously, and stubbornly, she enlisted a few supporters, then many more, and confronted the poachers. Eventually, with so many watchful eyes on the beach, the poaching ended.
With so many patrolling naturalists and visiting turtle-lovers on the beach, poaching is history here. And the result: far more turtles now than 20 years ago. Now, with hundreds of paying visitors (mostly Trinidadians, but also foreign tourists) nightly pumping money and enthusiasm in to the community, anyone who would suggest stopping the turtle-viewing would be thought of as nuts. And so shifts a paradigm.
The success in ending poaching that has been enjoyed here by both sea turtles and people is needed on many other beaches around the world, where the kinds of problems that existed here 20 years ago still continue.
Here we can see what success looks like. It looks like nests erupting with hatchlings at sunset and soon after dark. It looks like the black shapes of living dinosaurs crawling from the eternal sea in darkness to dig their nests and lay their eggs—in peace.
For more photos, see my Facebook page and the album, Leatherback Giants of Trinidad.
The TV show will air this coming winter; watch for announcements at http://www.pbs.org/programs/saving-the-ocean/ starting in September. Our completed shows are available for free viewing on that site now, and on Netflix.