Leatherbacks — Going Faster Than You Think
In April 2007, scientists, corporations, conservation partners, publicists, and educators joined together to host a creative new kind of conservation awareness campaign: the Great Turtle Race. This major international event was organized by The Leatherback Trust, Tagging of Pacific Predators, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy, and Conservation International.
In the race, satellite tags on 11 female leatherbacks tracked the turtles’ migratory movements from the “starting line” at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, to the “finish zone” near Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, where the leatherbacks forage. Ten of the turtles were sponsored by a corporation or other institution.
The eleventh turtle was named Stephanie Colburtle in honor of comedian Stephen Colbert. When notified of the tribute, Colbert introduced Stephanie and the Great Turtle Race to his audience of approximately one million fans on his hit Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” providing updates on Stephanie’s progress throughout the race. As a result of this and the hundreds of articles, television news reports, radio interviews, and online blogs covering the 14-day event, the Great Turtle Race captured the hearts, consciences, and fundraising dollars of U.S. and international audiences, reaching more than 28 million individuals in North America and more than 100 million internationally.
All of this was a great boon for leatherback turtles, which are “going faster than you think.” Leatherbacks are 100 million-year-old, massive sea animals that survived the dinosaurs but are now dangerously close to extinction. Their numbers have decreased at Playa Grande from thousands of nesting turtles 10 years ago to fewer than 100 in the past five years. This online event raised funds to protect Playa Grande and raised awareness about what we humans can do—no matter where they live—to help protect sea turtles in our daily actions.
This article originally appeared in SWOT Report, vol. 3 (2008). Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.