For the last several decades, conservationists on Florida’s coasts have been protecting sea turtle nests by patrolling the beaches in the early morning during nesting season, finding new nests, and marking their locations to prevent people from trampling them. Rules have emerged to extinguish beachside lights at night during nesting season to prevent disorienting the turtles and later the hatchlings as they make their way back to the sea. Volunteers are on hand during the night to assist wayward hatchlings in finding their way to the water. This has been an exercise in faith, since the time from hatching to maturity and reproduction is around 30 years, depending upon species.
In the Sarasota area, the Mote Marine Laboratory has overseen this effort for the past 30 years. As I walked the beach this morning on Longboat Key, I encountered excited volunteers, working feverishly to mark an unprecedented number of new nests. This has been a banner year for sea turtle nesting here. They explained to me that the sharp increase in nesting might be the proof of concept from the earliest days of the program. Sea turtles usually return to the beaches on which they hatched to lay their eggs. Many of this year’s adults may have been protected in the nest and assisted back to the sea by caring hands 30 years ago. One has to wonder who those volunteers were way back then and what paths their lives have taken in the intervening years. Could they have envisioned the return of their charges so long in the future? How many of those still alive think about their mission today?
This is how conservation works. Small acts can have large effects in a distant future. The value of measures taken today cannot be adequately assessed in a year or two or even a decade, but must be viewed through a lens that may span half a century or more. And similarly, the cost of measures foregone must be viewed through a similar lens. Protecting species or the environment itself is an act of faith and an act of reverence for the earth. Our survival depends upon people with such vision.