J Nichols on Why We Should Save Sea Turtles and Why Our Brains Need the Ocean

 

Marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has worked tirelessly to preserve the world’s endangered sea turtles and raise awareness about our need to conserve our oceans. He just returned from a trip to Baja California’s Magdalena Bay, where he spent time in the field with fishermen who help preserve endangered sea turtles.

Through his BLUEMIND annual conferences he is helping us understand the role the ocean can play in our health and cognitive function. J. and I co-founded WiLDCOAST together in 1999. Today he is one of the the world’s most passionate and innovative ocean conservationists.

Dedina: In the past few years you’ve helped shed light on looking at connections between neuroscience and the ocean, which will be the subject of a new book you are writing. What are some of the insights you’ve gained into the new emerging field of neuroconservation?

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Nichols: Our successes in Baja with sea turtles, apart from the mountain of scientific ecological research, depends heavily on the emotional commitment to saving the animals among the many people working so hard along the coast.

It’s said that conservation is really about managing people and changing behaviors. If we don’t understand what’s happening in the human brain, we’re really in the dark. So the idea of studying neuroscience has been on my mind for a long time. In recent years we’ve connected the best neuroscientists in the world with the best ocean advocates and explorers to ask some very interesting questions about “our brains on ocean.”

If Coca-Cola can use neuroscience to sell sugar water, we can use neuroscience for the ocean.

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Dedina: You have your third BLUEMIND conference coming up. What is the purpose of the conference and why is it being held on the East Coast this year?

Nichols: Each year we hold BLUEMIND at a different location, with a slightly different general theme. This year the theme is “Last Child in the Water” and we’ll explore the role of water in healthy cognitive function. Holding the summit on Block Island makes it easy for our colleagues in New England to attend. We may jump the pond and take the conference to the UK in 2014.

Dedina: Why is the ocean so vital to human health and well being?

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Nichols: The list of biological, ecological and economic services that the ocean provides is long, and fairly well known. Oxygen, our climate, food, transportation and so on. But the “cognitive services” the ocean provides are just as important. For many of us the ocean, and other bodies of water, literally pulls the stress from us.

It’s a form of daily therapy. People go there to relax, re-create and vacation. Artists, musicians and writers go there to be inspired. I’ve met countless people who’ve told me that they do their best thinking when they are in, on or near water. Neuroscientists have shown that even the color blue doubles creativity and being seaside provokes an enhanced felling of well-being.

If we were to lose all of that, the world and our lives would be vastly diminished. I hope that when people learn about how healthy water makes them better at being themselves it gives them another reason to join the fight to protect our blue planet.

Serge Dedina: How did you get involved in carrying out research on sea turtles?

Wallace J. Nichols: I was into turtles as a kid. We used to catch snapping turtles in Chesapeake Bay, paint numbers on their shells and throw them back. Sometimes we’d recapture them and doing some simple algebra we’d estmate the number of turtles in the bay. Little did I know that 10 years later I’d be doing essentially the same thing with sea turtles for my doctoral thesis. My first sea turtle job was in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

From there I worked with Jeff Seminoff to survey all of the sea turtle nesting beaches along Mexico’s vast coastline, driving a 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser. We then started to focus on northwest Mexico, especially the Baja Peninsula.

Dedina: You moved from studying sea turtles to advocating for their conservation? What happened that caused you to initiate your conservation
efforts?

Nichols: We’ve published a mountain of sea turtle science, literally hundreds of papers and reports in some of the best journals. But science doesn’t turn into action on its own. And back then there were no government agencies or NGOs to take our science and act on it.

Sea turtles were being killed by the thousands and it was clear that if we just continued to produce research papers, nothing would happen. Given the lack of official capacity to respond, we started by creating a grassroots network of fishermen interested in the plight of sea turtles. We called ourselves the Grupo Tortuguero. This year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Grupo Tortuguero, which is now a robust network of thousands of people in 50 coastal communities and involving dozens of NGOs, managed by a strong team of Mexican scientists and advocates.

Dedina: Back in the early 1990s you tracked a loggerhead sea turtle from Baja to Japan? How did that come about and what eventually happened to the sea turtle?

Nichols: Fellow scientists were somewhat baffled by the presence of loggerheads along the Baja coast, since the closest nesting beach was all the way over in Japan. The status quo was that Japan was just too far away to be the source of the animals. In 1996, working with biologists Antonio and Bety Resendiz, we had the opportunity to put a satellite transmitter on a mature loggerhead. We named the turtle after the daughter of the fisherman who helped us and released her off the Pacific coast outside Santa Rosaliita, BC.

That turtle was ready to swim home, and home was due west, 7,000 miles away in Japan. We tracked Adelita for 365 days until she reached the Japanese coast. We did something that was radical at the time by sharing our data in real time, allowing millions of kids, teachers and researchers around the world to join the project. I guess you could say that built our own social network before there was such a thing.

When Adelita reached the Japanese coast, her track did several strange things. There are several viable ways to interpret the data from her final days, but it appears likely that she was caught in a squid net near Isohama, Japan and broght back to the dock, before the signal went dead.

Dedina: What are the primary threats to sea turtles and what can people do in their everyday lives to help in sea turtle conservation efforts?

Nichols: Sea turtles interact with our activities in more ways than people realize. They get hung up in our fishing gear, their beaches get developed for hotels, they swim through oil spills and they eat our plastic. Climate change is impacting the sex of sea turtles, their food sources and the dynamics of their nesting beaches. Virtually any move you make towards living more sustainably is good for sea turtles.
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Dedina: How can people help preserve the ocean?

Nichols: The first way is to touch it. Connect. Get wet often. Bring your family and those you love with you to the water. Consider your brain on ocean for a moment. If you enjoy and value the way your brain responds to a healthy ocean and you think it’s worth protecting, look around and ask questions and the next steps to becoming an ocean protector will become clear–and consider becoming one of the 100BlueAngels.org.

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The Best Places to Explore in Baja in 2013

Daniel gets a fun one--the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

San Miguel in Ensenada.

For years many Southern California surfers and ocean lovers have lived for Baja. Upon crossing the border they experienced endless empty beaches, great fishing, friendly people and perfect waves.

Then when things got a little rough in Mexico a few years ago, due to the drug war, many Baja California lovers bid adios to their old friend.

But an interesting thing happened during the years that American tourists abandoned Lower California. Rather than sit idly by waiting for tourists to show up, the peninsula’s new generation of entrepreneurs reinvented Baja. They developed a new cuisine, built beautiful new eco-resorts and boutique hotels, and produced fine wines.

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The peninsula got a lot safer as well. Highways have been improved. The increased presence of the police and the military has made travel safer.

Over the holidays my sons and I spent a few mornings and afternoons south of the the border carrying out surgical surf strikes during the recent magical run of winter swells. We scored big and never had a single problem. Lots of smiles, great food, and cool, clean, empty waves.

So here are a few of the hottest spots to sample in our sun-kissed neighbor to the south.

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Northern Baja Cuisine and Wine County: Start off with a late lunch at Javier Plascencia’s gastronomic palace in Tijuana, Mision 19. Then head south and stop for a quick sunset surf before you check into one of the boutique hotels in the Valle de Guadalupe such as the Grupo Habita eco-bungalows or Adobe Guadalupe. For dinner check out the amazingly tasty Corazon de Tierra. The next day, after sampling waves at San Miguel or 3M’s, catch a late breakfast or  lunch at either Boules or Muelle 3. After a second surf session check out the wine, cocktails and dinner at the award winning Manzanilla.

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Whale Watching in San Ignacio Lagoon: The world’s best whale-watching awaits you in this stark and pristine desert lagoon fringed by mangroves, bobcats and coyotes. Filled with more than 200 gray whales during the height of the whale season in February and early March, this is the best place in the world to encounter a friendly whale.

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Whales, Islands and Missions in Loreto and Magdalena Bay: Catch a short flight to the beautiful mission town of Loreto to catch up with old Baja. Tour the amazing azure islands of Loreto Bay National Park, be inspired by the grandeur of Mision San Javier, and take a day trip to Magdalena Bay’s Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos for a day of whale watching and wandering the dunes of the barrier islands.

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East Cape: Fill up on organic goodies and beautiful arts and crafts at the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market and then head out east and discover miles of empty white-sand beaches. Explore the coral reef and schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo National Park, one of North America’s best dive spots. If you’re lucky you’ll catch an early season south swell, but during the winter the East Cape is tranquility and heaven. Be sure to catch the sunset over cocktails and dinner at the iconic Crossroads Country Club at Vinorama, where a boutique hotel will open soon.

Whale shark.  Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Whale shark on the East Cape. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Todos Santos: Officially the hottest, hippest, and coolest little resort town in Baja. Todos Santos is an old school Baja town remade as a trendy little village with great hotels, excellent food and a laid back vibe. My wife Emily and I spent one of the best years of our life living in Todos Santos back in the mid 1990s, so I love to visit and hang out with friends, surf pristine warm-water waves and eat tasty, healthy food.

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So what are you waiting for? Baja is better than ever. Explore it now while the going is good!

WiLDCOAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2012

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2012 was a great year for WiLDCOAST, the international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems that I run. With offices in Imperial Beach, Ensenada, Los Cabos and Oaxaca, our  fast-moving and strategic coastal conservation team made a big difference this year in protecting some of the most iconic and biologically significant coastal and marine sites along the Pacific coast of North America. Since 2000, WiLDCOAST has helped to preserve more than 3.2 million acres of coastal and marine ecosystems including 340 miles of beaches in Mexico protected through conservation concessions and acquisitions.

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Some of our accomplishments in 2012 included the following:

  • Preserved 2,970 acres of 9.3 miles of Baja California pristine coastline through private acquisitions.
  • Challenged the abysmal response of PEMEX to respond to and clean up an oil spill in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, that impacted more than 120 miles of beaches including the world-class right point breaks of southern Oaxaca and some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.
  • Pushed the Mexican Attorney General to file legal claims again PEMEX for impacts to coastal ecosystems and wildlife from the oil spill.
  • Helped to manage and conserve more than 15,000 acres of marine ecosystems protected as MPAs in San Diego County.
  • Worked with 3,050 volunteers to clean up 154,546 lbs of ocean-bound trash in the U.S. and Mexico.
  • Protected sea turtle nesting beaches in southern Mexico where more than 20 million sea turtles hatched and 650,000 sea turtles laid eggs.
  • Reached more than 430 million people wiht 928 media pieces through campaigns.
  • Successfully convinced Mexican President Felipe Calderon to halt the proposed Cabo Cortes mega-project on Baja’s East Cape that would have built a new city larger than Cancun next to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, the world’s most robust marine reserve.
  • Carried out 228 public outreach events attended by more than 16,000 people.
  • Worked with community residents  in Los Cabos, Magdalena Bay and Ensenada to create vibrant coast and ocean conservation art murals.
  • Established a new conservation network in Mexico, Red Costasalvaje to help bring together and train community leaders and residents to carry out coastal protection efforts on their own.
  • Supported the ongoing management of three WiLDCOAST chapters in Baja California Surf, Mexico.
  • Worked with PBS to produce an episode of the series, Saving the Ocean, on sustainable fishing and whale watching in Punta Abreojos and San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico.
  • Received the NBC-Universal 21st Century Solutions Award for our efforts to restore and preserve the Tijuana Estuary and Tijuana River Mouth MPA.pulmo1

Thanks to all of our donors, members, staff and partners  2012 was  a groundbreaking year for conservation and WiLDCOAST. We look forward to working with all of you and all of our amazing network of coastal conservation leaders in the U.S. and Mexico to continue preserving our coastal and marine heritage.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

The Best of Wild Baja

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From my Southwest Surf Patch.com column of October 26, 2011.

You don’t have to travel too far to experience the best coastal wilderness on the planet. There is no other place on Earth that provides the outdoor experience and friendly fishing folk in one location as the Baja California peninsula.

If you crave travel plans that bring you in contact with pristine waves, friendly whales and untrammeled wilderness, then pack up your gear and head south.

Whether you fly or drive, fish, surf or dive, the fact is that the real Baja is not found in the large tourist resorts but in the quiet and more remote fishing villages and mission towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern resorts such as Cabo San Lucas.

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Here are some areas in which it is possible to experience the best of wild Baja. These are all family friendly locations that provide either camping or small-scale hotel and eco-lodges to get you close to the water and wildlife.

San Ignacio Lagoon: This sheltered mangrove lagoon about 35 miles west of the mission village of San Ignacio is one of the world’s top destinations for whalewatching. Between late January and mid-April, hundreds of gray whales assemble in the shallow waters of this desert lagoon to give birth, mate and escape the cold water of the north Pacific. Numerous San Diego and locally based outfitters provide eco-camps and whalewatching services such as Kuyima, Pachico’s Eco-Tours, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions, and Baja Eco-Tours.6604819cee43ce4cc0a751ed8005c9cd

View of the bay with Isla Angel de la Guarda o...

Image via Wikipedia

Bahia de los Angeles:  Located about ten hours south of San Diego, this small fishing settlement on the shore of the Sea of Cortez is a haven for sportfishing, diving and wildlife watching. During the fall there are opportunities to observe whale sharks (with a certified outfitter). The numerous islands just offshore are filled with seabirds and excellent diving and snorkeling. There are a plethora of small eco-camps and a few hotels. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, fin whale, or a sea lion or all three.

Loreto: This lovely and quiet mission town in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez is the gateway to exploring white sand beaches, pristine islands, the jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta and hidden missions. Loreto is also one of the best places for sportfishing and diving in Baja. To the north is Bahia Concepcion that provides more undeveloped beach camping and to the south are the dramatic peaks and beaches of Agua Verde.

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Magdalena Bay: This huge mangrove fringed series of bays is a maze of hidden waterways, sand dunes and mysterious islands that extends for more than 100 miles along Baja California Sur’s Pacific coastline. During February and March, gray whales are found near the fishing villages of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos that also provide small-scale accommodations and basic restaurants. Sportfishermen have long been attracted to the area and birders are also discovering the wildlife of this long forgotten region.

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Cabo Pulmo: This tiny village of about 60 people borders the northernmost coral reef in North America. Cabo Pulmo National Park was recently listed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography study as one of the world’s most robust marine conservation areas. A dec

ade ago, local community members, conservationists and the Mexican government joined forces here to ban sport and commercial fishing within the national park and fish and ocean wildlife have rebounced. Cabo Pulmo is now one of the best dive spots in Mexico and is a haven for whales, sea turtles and giant schools of fish and even sharks. Small-scale accommodations abound here and there are numerous sportfishing resorts located to the north. Unfortunately there are plans to build a new Cancun-style resort here so don’t delay visiting this world-class nature reserve.

Wild Sea Review: WiLDCOAST founder’s inspiring book celebrates miracle of our coasts

A review from the Southwestern College Sun

Surfers are a hardy bunch, as Dr. Serge Dedina makes clear in his fascinating mew book. Even a bad shark bite cannot deter a dedicated surfer from entering the ocean-or loving it.

Daniel Dedina surfing the Imperial Beach Pier-the setting for some of Wild Sea.

Dedina, the brilliant and maverick surfer-philosopher-environmentalist from Imperial Beach, captures the majesty and mystery of our oceans in, “Wild Sea: Eco Wars and Surf Stories From The Coast of The Californias.”

He challenges people to be active by touching their hearts with personal stories from an array of people who live off and love the oceans of the Californias.

As executive director of WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE, Dedina’s outside the box approaches to multi national environmentalism has helped save beaches, wildlife, and people. His book has a similar mission.

Dedina’s ability to conduct intimate interviews helps establish a relationship with environmental concerns. In one portion of the 168-page book, he interviews local fishermen who live near Magdalena Bay, the famous grey whale breeding ground. Through their stories, the reader can see the bay through the fishermen’s eyes. An ocean is a way of life.

Dedina successfully gets his message across with assertiveness and urgency, but without coming off as preachy. This makes the reader more open to hearing what he has to say and taking a real interest in the issues he promotes.

He warns us about the subtle and overt destruction of the coasts and the repercussions through the personal stories of people who live and work on the ocean and shoreline of the California and Baja. Baja’s fishermen agree they also care about the coast, and want to save it for their children and grandchildren.

Serge Dedina surfing Imperial Beach.

Dedina grew up in Imperial Beach, and spent many days with his family out on the ocean, surfing the sunlight away. Now he fights to preserve the coast for future his two sons. He was honored last year as the Southwestern College honorary degree recipient.

Dedina used many clever and ingenious tactics to get his message across. He has involved the local punk scene, was an advisor on the HBO show, “John From Cincinnati,” and teaming up with a popular luchador, El Hijo del Santo, to make videos that promote saving our coastal regions. WiLDCOAST is known for its proactive campaigns to save sea turtles and sharks.

The Lucha Libre El Hijo del Santo appears in m...

El Hijo del Santo, star of WiLDCOAST campaigns.

Dedina tells a story of hope and continued ambition to protect and preserve, not just the coastlines of California, but also the natural beauty of the world. “Wild Sea,” is an important and thought-provoking book. Best of all, it is a fun read.

 

Wild Sea Review: New Book Explores Beach Culture, Conservation in California and Mexico


In “Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias,”Serge Dedina tells the real-life story of struggles, blockades and the loss of rich biodiverse land in California and the Baja California peninsula.

“Wild Sea” will host a book-launch party at the Tijuana Estuary Training Center Saturday from 6-8 p.m.

Dedina’s passion for the land started as a kid growing up in Imperial Beach, surfing the Tijuana Sloughs. Making his way up and down the coast for most of his life, this book chronicles surf culture, the elimination of native habitats, and the evolution of organized grassroots efforts to preserve what is left of one of the world’s largest and most diverse coastal ecosystems.

It is a journey into Magdalena Bay, the habitat of precious gray whale breeding habitats, sensitive fisheries and the quickly disappearing sea turtle and includes the stories of surfers, birdwatchers, fishermen, scientists, surfers and environmentalists, who all come together for a common cause.

The book gives a shoreline a view of the history of great wave riders and their evolution from surfers to activists.

It’s also a first-hand account of battles won and lost against poachers, politicians, private companies and government agencies.

Dedina holds nothing back in his judgment of bureaucratic and corporate interests that he believes can pose a threat to these habitats as they search for fossil fuels or mega tourism hotspots. He documents the damage done and pleas for global community involvement.

With strong conviction, Dedina takes a look at problems the region faces today and the decades-long struggle to fight river and ocean pollution from both sides of the border.

Dedina became a co-founder and Executive Director of WiLDCOAST in 2000. Collaborating with Mexico’s government officials, biological specialists and environmental groups, WiLDCOAST expanded its vision in Mexico, creating Costasalvaje in Ensenada. Globally his organization and its partners fight together to protect what is left of the wild sea.

“Wild Sea” is a fantastic read for all ages.

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