Occupation: Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Corporation
Specialty: Aside from doing all the behind-the-scenes work involved in running an international non-profit organization, such as fundraising, strategic planning and managing staff, I specialize in communicating the message of sea turtle conservation to the media, the public and elected officials. In particular, I have built a career around being able to identify threats to marine turtles and their habitats; finding potential solutions to these threats; and then conducting campaigns to bring about policy changes that address the problems.
Best part about my job: Traveling to exotic locations and working hands-on with CCC’s scientists on sea turtle research projects. Getting out into the field rejuvenates me and gives me the perspective to communicate CCC’s messages with conviction and first-hand knowledge. I also take great pride whenever my work leads directly to the resolution of some threat to sea turtles or their habitats. None of us got into this type of work to make money. The reward comes when you know you have done something to improve the survival outlook for marine turtles.
Biggest challenges I face: CCC conducts the longest-running sea turtle research and conservation project in the world. Despite the obvious success of the 50-year-long Tortuguero, Costa Rica, program, which has documented a 400% increase in green turtle nesting since the 1970s, it is a constant challenge to raise enough funding to keep this project going year in and year out. With each new program we establish, such as the new research and conservation project at Chiriqui Beach, Panama, or the new Washington DC-based International Policy Program, new challenges are created as CCC seeks to sustain these programs long term.
The most unusual or exciting thing that’s happened to me while working in the field: There have been many unusual and exciting times in the field, but one thing stands out in my mind. Interestingly, this event does involve large amphibious reptiles, but they weren’t sea turtles. Early one morning, I was participating in a bird survey in the Paynes Prairie State Preserve located on the fringes of Gainesville, Florida. It was a crisp spring morning with barely a cloud in the sky. Suddenly, an air-splitting explosion and shockwave shattered the morning calm. The sound was so loud I nearly fell to my knees. Immediately after the sound subsided, several previously undetected bull alligators in the nearby bog began “bellowing” loudly. I had never heard more than one gator make this sound at a time, and their low guttural noise filled the prairie air with rumbling of a different type for a minute or so. Almost as quickly as they came, the explosion and the response from resident gators ended. The normal prairie noises returned. Later that evening, I was watching the local news, wondering if there might be a story that would explain the explosion I had heard. Sure enough there was. At approximately 8:00 AM that morning, the space shuttle had reentered the atmosphere just above Gainesville, where it sent out a sonic boom as it broke back through the sound barrier. I immediately recognized the ironic significance of the events earlier that morning. In a completely literal sense, I had just witnessed dinosaurs attempting to communicate with spacemen.
Why I like being a member of the MTSG: I am one of the few non-scientists appointed to the Marine Turtle Specialist Group, so I appreciate that MTSG leaders recognized the unique perspective I can contribute to the Group. While I am not a scientist by formal training, I do have considerable first-hand experience with marine turtle research. However, in my 17 years as a professional conservationist and environmental educator, I have developed effective strategies for distilling scientific information into persuasive arguments for conserving species and habitats. I am first and foremost a communicator, as well as an experienced policy shaper. As the MTSG works to expand and adapt the messages it communicates, I look forward to contributing to the group’s message and helping shape its policy agenda.
Turtle researcher / conservationist I most admire: Although he is no longer with us, Dr. Archie Carr would be my first choice. He was the consummate scientist and communicator rolled into one. As a writer, Archie had the ability to communicate complex information in a way that could make you laugh out loud, pound your fist in anger or even cry in the same paragraph. After Archie, I would have to list Anne Meylan and Jeanne Mortimer, who, like Archie, have dedicated their lives to furthering our understanding of sea turtle biology. Most importantly, throughout their careers, they have never been afraid or hesitant to express and defend positions on controversial issues when the time is appropriate. Scientific exploration undertaken specifically for the sake of accumulating knowledge about the natural world is an admirable and important pursuit. However, I have always been particularly impressed with scientists who recognize the important roles they must play in speaking out for the conservation of the things they study. Archie, Anne and Jeanne each fit that description.
When I’m not working on turtles I like to: Surf, spend time with my wife and son, and (my one guilty pleasure as a dedicated conservationist) I love to golf. Despite the environmental degradation caused by the proliferation of golf courses, I am completely addicted to the game.
Ten years from now, I hope I will be doing: Exactly the same thing I’m doing now, but with a large endowment that frees me up (at least some) from the constant fundraising.