Loggerhead turtle’s trek ‘Connects’ with moviegoers

PHOTO PROVIDED

Coastal Connections hosted an inaugural Movie Night at the Majestic 11 Movie Theater last Wednesday evening for the screening of the documentary film “Turtle: The Incredible Journey.”

A sold-out crowd of moviegoers dove in, popcorn and licorice in hand, as they followed a loggerhead turtle on her perilous 9,000-mile journey from hatching on one of Florida’s East Coast beaches, to the Arctic and across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa and, some 25 years later, returning to the beach where she was born to lay her eggs.

The spectacular filmography showcases the beauty and dangers hidden beneath the sea, from the hatchlings’ first struggling steps in their efforts to reach the water, to close encounters with natural predators as well as man-made dangers such as fishnets, oil spills, trash, speeding boats and beachside lighting.

It is a journey that only one in 1,000 loggerhead turtle hatchlings will survive.

Margaret Bowden, a Coastal Connections summer intern, hatched the idea for the event to raise awareness and funds to support the mission of the nonprofit to protect coastal habitats and aid the recovery of sea turtles by educating and connecting people to the environment.

Bowden is a senior at the College of Charleston majoring in marine biology and political science with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. She planned the event as her summer internship project.

“I wanted to show people in the community how truly important and special sea turtles are to the ecosystem as a whole,” said Bowden.

Additionally, she wanted to engage more people in the work of Coastal Connections. Bowden said that one-fourth of the Movie Night attendees had never previously participated in any of the Coastal Connections programs.

When she applied for the internship with Coastal Connections, the nonprofit stood out, she said. “They do a really good job of balancing fieldwork and science and data collection with community engagement and education and getting people to care,” said Bowden.

She said that she had applied for the Coastal Connections internship because she was impressed with its work. After graduating from college, Bowden hopes to utilize what she has learned during her time in Vero Beach to get a job in the marine conservation public policy field.

Referencing the interactive and immersive experiences offered by Coastal Connections that create connections with wildlife that lead to conservation-minded behavior changes, Bowden shared a recent experience with her own family.

“I’ve always been super passionate about marine biology, and my family is so supportive of me, but they’ve never really understood,” said Bowden. That is, until a recent visit.

“They got the chance to go on a turtle walk and see a mother sea turtle laying her eggs. The next morning, they watched a turtle dig, and we actually had a hatchling that we released into the ocean. The experience completely changed my family’s perspective,” said Bowden.

“Giving people the opportunity to see the sea turtles in the wild, doing what they do, is the best way to get people to care about them. Coastal Connections does a really good job of giving people that opportunity.”

The internship program gives college students a rare opportunity to get their hands wet in the field. Funded through generous donors, it is a paid internship program, which is not a common occurrence, according to Kendra Cope, Coastal Connections founder and executive director.

“There are very few organizations that are going to provide a college-level student on-the-job, real-life skill experience putting on fundraisers and planning events but also getting experience in the field and learning about conservation work for protected species like sea turtles,” said Cope.

“We’re trying to close that gap in terms of resource availability to all students, even those who might not be in a demographic that would allow them to just come and work for us for free. It’s something they can take with them as they continue on their career path in conservation or science research,” Cope added.

She noted that the exchange of knowledge is a two-way street.

“Our internship program provides an amazing opportunity for our team to continue learning from the younger generation, because they have a lot of knowledge that they can impart on us from an outsider’s point of view.”

Commenting on the success of the Movie Night fundraiser, Cope said, “It is important for all people to know that our actions and the things that we do every day do matter.”

Coastal Connections has several opportunities to get involved during the next two months:

Coastal Cleanup sponsored by Sailfish Brewing Co. Aug. 27; the International Coastal Cleanup on Sept. 17; and the Recycle Derby Sept. 24 at Walking Tree Brewery.

For more information, visit coastal-connections.org.

Photos provided

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