After graduating in Environmental Science Nicki Wheeler decided to take a volunteering trip to Costa Rica in 2004. Her first interaction with a leatherback turtle changed her life forever as she made a commitment to protect the species! After returning home and selling her home, Nicki returned to Costa Rica and is now the International Coordinator of LAST, The Latin American Sea Turtle Association.
Nicki has kindly answered some questions for us on what inspired her to be a conservationist and the aims and achievements of the amazing LAST project.
How did you end up in your current role at LAST?
It took many years of working in the field, training, creating a network of contacts and travelling to different projects, for me to land the job I am in now – where I can focus my time, efforts and knowledge for the benefits of conservation.
What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Being aware of the long-term impacts of our work. People often need a quick fix, but with turtles that is not possible. We are guaranteeing future populations of sea turtles for the next generations. I also love watching a volunteers reaction to seeing their first turtle!
What was your proudest moment in conservation so far?
Recognition by various organisations, public and private institutions, and my peers.
What gives you hope for the future of conservation and what advice would you give to those thinking about becoming a conservationist?
Youth – seeing how college and university students are making changes and demanding a future, despite living in a highly consumer and disposable society. Do not give up. Perseverance is key, even when you are told no, keep going.
What are your future career goals?
To make conservation topics accessible for everyone – regardless of location. Many urban kids do not have access to hands on conservation, so they don’t understand the necessity.
Can you give us an insight into the work LAST undertakes?
LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) Association is a Costa Rican group with 11 members and a directive board of 5, working together to make a change in sea turtle conservation. Our aim is to create environments where humans and sea turtles can live together in balance.
We started working in 1986 ( as ANAI Costa Rica) to undertake research on nesting populations of leatherback turtles on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica
We deal with many issues such as illegal extraction (poaching) of turtle eggs, meat and shell. As well as destructive fishing practices, climate change, plastic contamination, habitat destruction, and beach erosion.
Can you give an insight into what an average day is like on the project?
We run several projects currently – but as an example, a day in our leatherback nesting project in Pacuare would involve a nocturnal patrol – walking 7km beach (14km total) over a period of 4 – 5 hours. This can be from 12 midnight to 4am. If a nesting turtle is found, we would collect data from here before collecting the eggs, and relocating them to a safer “hatchery”. This hatchery needs to be monitored 24 hours a day, so we would take shifts for this. IN free time, we would need to clean the beach from debris and litter.
How does your organisation interact with the local community?
We offer opportunities to local community members to be employed as a local guide, and therefore receiving a salary. This would reduce the need to extract eggs or other turtle products in order to sell on the black market.
What are the organisations biggest achievements?
Having high hatchling emergence rates using a hatchery.
To find our more and how to get involved, please visit http://www.latinamericanseaturtles.com/. Join the incredible team with their volunteering program, donate to support the amazing conservation work and follow, like and share their stories on social media.