To sea turtles and someone special

By: Lilly Briggs
March 14, 2022

If you are a regular reader of this blog (thank you!), you are well aware that I’m *kind of* into birds. So you might understandably assume that the high diversity of bird species in Costa Rica is what first attracted me to this country. 

Surprise! It was not birds, but sea turtles.

During my first year of university, I heard—and was horrified by—the statistic that only about three in one hundred baby sea turtles will survive to adulthood. Their odds are unfavourable because of many factors, from predators to pollution. It pained me a little to acknowledge that among their predators are birds like raptors, who can enjoy an easy snack by picking off a tiny, vulnerable turtle scuttling across the sand between the beach site it just hatched and the beckoning waves of the big blue ocean. 

But that is part of the circle of life; what pained me so much more was learning about the number of sea turtles that do not even make it to the scuttling-across-sand stage due to illegal turtle egg poaching. It is a challenge that Costa Rica as well as many other countries throughout this region have had to confront, giving rise to nonprofit associations such as PRETOMA (Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas or Sea Turtle Restoration Program). To meet its objective to “protect, conserve, and restore the populations of sea turtles that use the marine environment of Costa Rica to either nest, feed, or migrate,” PRETOMA created employment and volunteer opportunities in a southern coastal town called Punta Banco to patrol beaches nightly, document turtle nesting activity, and move turtle eggs to a protected hatchery.

Upon learning PRETOMA’s mandate, my own personal mission became clear: travel to Costa Rica and volunteer for their project. And I was lucky that I could share the adventure with a very special friend, Nina Dobbin.

So while you might have thought today’s blog was just dedicated to the turtles, I will surprise you again! It is written in honour of Nina, with whom I also happen to share a long history of collaborating on environmental education initiatives. Before volunteering for PRETOMA in 2004, Nina and I had organized “Earth Week” events at our North Vancouver high school; did environmental outreach at local elementary schools; and launched “Wavemakers,” which was our mini-environmental organization aimed at making “positive waves” in our community. To do so, we executed detailed action plans and schedules with military precision that, looking back, were pretty impressive for two teenagers. 

Nina now works as an epidemiologist for Health Canada, and has conducted important research on the health impacts of air pollution. She is currently working to develop a national surveillance system for poison information, and became a member of the Finca Cántaros Environmental Association Board of Directors.

And, she is the first friend from Canada to brave the tricky Covid-era travel landscape to come visit with her family!

Nina and I are thrilled to reunite after last seeing each other over two years ago, and nostalgic about our first time here in Costa Rica nearly twenty years ago. Beyond sharing that life-changing trip and helping me develop project planning skills that continue to serve me well, I’ve been thinking about all the ways I’m so grateful to Nina for a friendship that has inspired me to keep fighting for the planet, and supported me emotionally through all the highs and the lows of that work. 

In addition to these metaphorical trips down memory lane, I hope Nina and I can make a literal one down to the beautiful beaches of Punta Banco where we once searched for sea turtles. And—because I’m *kind of* into birds—where Nina once patiently smiled through my spasms of delight over my first sighting of spectacular Scarlet Macaws.

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