The War for the Environment

Outside Magazine has just published a very moving story about a sea turtle conservationist in Costa Rica who was killed in 2013, called Blood in the Sand . The conservationist, 26 year old Jairo Mora Sandoval, was kidnapped and beaten to death by egg poachers while trying to protect leatherback sea turtle nesting sites. He had worked for years in the area, sometimes butting heads with the poachers, and at other times trying to work with them to provide new livelihoods through conservation and eco-tourism.

Unfortunately, due to the economics of the black market trade for eggs, and the lack of funding for protection, efforts in Costa Rica to encourage poachers to convert to conservationists failed. Like drugs, the trade is turtle eggs is highly lucrative and controlled by a small number of powerful people with no qualms about taking the life of anybody who gets in their way.  Lower in the gang hierarchy, is primarily poor and uneducated people trying to earn money to feed their families.

As the global population increases, and the earth’s resources dwindle due to unsustainable use, incidences such as this are becoming more and more frequent. As resources become more scarce, they become more valuable due to the fundamental laws of supply and demand. Like with Blue Fin Tuna, as the populations dwindle each individual is worth more, and more effort will be put into capturing them until eventually there are none left. Sea Turtles evolved over 110 million years ago, and have survived through extinction events such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. But today all but 1 species are listed on the IUCN Red List, and some species may be lost completely within the next several decades.

Examples such as this brutal murder in Costa Rica, along with the similar events in the African Congo and Amazon Rainforest (along with the adventures of the Sea Sheppard Crew), only highlight a problem that is growing all around our planet: the battle between conserving for the future and taking what is needed for today. For the privileged and educated people of the world, it is intrinsically obvious why these resources and biodiversity need to be saved, for poor people living in this area the only concern is ensuring the survival of self and family.

This will be one of the leading environmental battles of the next several decades, and one which is not easily solved. As global population growth increases the demand for food, water, and energy; how will ensure the survival of the planet and ultimately ourselves? I do not propose to have a silver bullet answer for solving this problem, but there are many things that we can do today to alleviate it, including:

  • Being an informed consumer and choosing only sustainable foods and products
  • Supporting sustainable businesses and travel destinations
  • Increasing funding for education and public schools to provide for better opportunities to today’s youth
  • Developing technologies that raise the living standard for the world’s poorest people (community wells, remote solar power, aquaculture, micro-hydro projects, etc)
  • Controlling global population growth through the education and empowerment of women
  • Finding alternatives to top-down enforcement of laws (which generally just drives commerce into the black market which is harder to control); such as scientifically based quotas, creation of alternative markets, or creative economic tools.
  • Doing what we can to control the effects of climate change, reducing carbon dioxide outputs, and protecting  the coasts from erosion caused by sea level rise (within the next few decades, Bangladesh could flood, leading to the displacement of over 60 million people, with other major population centers to follow).

As you can see from my list, it is going to take a wide variety of people from different backgrounds working with private businesses, NGO’s, and all levels of government in order to win this war. It is not just up to the scientists and conservationists, but up to each one of us to find where our personal strengths lie, and how to best apply our skills towards ensuring the future of our planet’s biodiversity; which in turn controls the fate of our species. It is quite literally a war that we cannot afford to lose.


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