Turtle Trails

Ana Lopez (ELP 2019) Investment Officer, Conservation International, Costa Rica

A little turtle – the size of the palm of my hand – moves its fins on the sand with all its energy and with an intrinsic desire to touch the ocean. I am walking behind it saying “Come on, you can do it. You can get to the vast and unknown sea of opportunities.” What I don’t mention to the little creature are the number of threats that turtles face in their life and the small probabilities of surviving theeir life's journey.

That is only a memory, one of the many that I have from my time at university. As a student, I spent most of my free time volunteering to protect turtles in different sites on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of my country, Costa Rica. I saw incredible turtle species while walking all night from side to side of extensive beache. Following the instructions from local community leaders, I helped protect nests by taking the eggs to secure nursery sights and eventually witnessed two powerful and motivating scenes: the turtles laying their eggs and their subsequent hatching as they sprout from the sand and inch towards the ocean.

At the same time, I learned more about all of the hazards sea turtles face, from poachers to dogs that feast on them because they have no other ources of food. These beaches are also home to social conflicts that have led to human tragedy, such as in the case of Jairo Mora, a young environmental leader who was shot defending his turtles in an ocean of violence associated with drug gangs on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

Since that first encounter with a turtle, I didn’t know my destiny was linked to conservation. While I studied agriculture, I spent more and more time on conservation-related activities and eventually began working at Conservation International, an environmental non-governmental organization that continually fuels my desire to contribute to a better world.

While I do not directly work to protect turtles or implement coastal conservation, I contribute in other critical ways. I search for businesses with models that impact conservation and work on financing mechanisms that can contribute to capitalize them and scale their impact. Those mechanisms range from direct investments to linking markets with conservationists’ efforts.

One example is David, an entrepreneur on the Pacific Mexican coast, who developed an environmentally friendly hotel on a pristine beach, an important location for turtles’ egg-laying. David guides international tourists in caring for turtles, involving them in nursery activities and helping them release turtles to the ocean. But that is just a small portion of the impact; the business also helps to restore mangroves and other ecosystems, generates local employment in a conflictive region, and inspires other people to make profitable businesses a more positive alternative for local communities and the environment.

These efforts can be extrapolated to diverse sectors facing environmental and social challenges, such as agriculture or aquaculture. Incentivizing impact through concessional investments is an incredible tool to promote better practices, to use resources more efficiently, to conserve or restore natural ecosystems, and to face climate change issues – all with a clear desire to keep not only our turtles but also our jaguars, macaws and numerous other species alive.