Saturday, June 16th, is World Sea Turtle Day!
Twenty-two year-old Zander Srodes didn’t earn a 2012 Youth Service America “25 Most Influential and Powerful Young People in the World” award because he invented a new computer system or became the youngest person to head the World Bank. Zander only saves sea turtles. With every ounce of his being. Every day. Watch his TEDxTeen video. It’s short and he’s so cool.
Imagine the scene: 2001. Night on a Florida beach. Eleven year-old “punk” kid, showing off to his buddies. Fireworks. Old lady yelling something crazy about turtles, too much light, wrong light. Who knows? Who cares? Punk shoots off mouth back at her. Curtain falls.
Next morning: Curtain rises. Sleep-blurred kid staggers into the kitchen. Mom and “old lady” seem to be plotting at the table over coffee. The twinkle, twinkle, boom, bang moments of the night before are about to turn into the “it” moment for the kid who doesn’t care.
Linda Soderquist, the local turtle expert in Zander’s kitchen, didn’t scold that morning, she shared — about sea turtles, swimming and impacting the oceans for tens of thousands of years. Zander felt the turtles grab his hand. They “wouldn’t let go.”
“What can I do?” he said.
What couldn’t he do? “Turtle Talks” to the kids at school spawned a free activity book (Linda illustrated). Today, more than 250,000 copies have been distributed in five languages over 20 countries. At 22, Zander travels the world, promoting conservation through conference talks and village chats and leading summer volunteer trips for college students in Costa Rica. He’s even an ESPN radio announcer Saturdays on Florida sports!
One of Zander’s mentors is Wallace “J” Nichols (see World Oceans Day post). “J” filmed this terrific story about 92 year-old, Pak Lahanie, the sole inhabitant and “caretaker” of Durai Island, a small sea turtle nesting ground near Indonesia. For 40 years, the five island owners paid him to harvest ALL the eggs the poor sea turtles dutifully dragged themselves out of the ocean to lay. Until “J” showed up. See what Pak does now to help the turtles he’s always loved.
For”J”, sea turtles are an indicator species for what oceanographer, Dr. Sylvia Earle, illustrates so elegantly in her TEDx Prize video on the health and purpose of the world’s oceans. Our planet’s present and future don’t divide the oceans from the rest of life on earth. The oceans ARE ALL LIFE ON EARTH. Thanks to Dr. Earle’s video, I finally, completely get it.
“No water, no life, no blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle.
As Zander says, every morning you get out of bed and choose to make a positive or negative difference. Eleven years ago, Linda handed him a different set of fireworks in the form of knowledge. He’s been lighting the world for everyone since.
Sylvia Earle’s mother, “the bird lady,” healed the neighborhood’s wounded birds and animals. At 81, after her first scuba dive, she scolded Sylvia for not making her do it sooner.
As a kid, Jacques Cousteau influenced “J” Nichols’ decision to become a sea turtle biologist.
Some people seem to know their path right out of the egg. Most of us need mentors — whether we’re kids or adults — to find our “it” moments. They kick us away from the comfortable light of the campfire toward the dim glow at the edge of the path. Then hand us the torch.
June 7, 2012: On Being: Interview with Oceanographer Sylvia Earle (mp3 online), or via iTunes podcast.