Slow and steady wins the race – social justice through turtle conservation
Jordan is an ecologist, conservation activist, science communicator, and project coordinator for COPROT, Communidad Protectora de Tortugas de Osa, a community-based turtle conservation program on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.
Jordan is also the founder of One Planet Conservation Awareness, an online platform supporting conservation organisations with raising awareness and funds for their projects through short films and conservation focused tours.
Jordan shares his experience navigating the conservation space to work dream job after dream job, and his advice for anyone looking to do the same!
Jordan studied conservation biology at university and while he was there, he came up with a dream of creating a project called One Planet Conservation Awareness, an online platform supporting small conservation organisations with raising awareness and funds to run their projects. What started as Jordan blogging about the importance of nature conservation has since grown into a thriving community.
“One Planet has really been with me as I’ve progressed through my career.”
Jordan, like most people looking to work in conservation, found it was challenging to get his foot in the door, especially early on. He did lots of volunteering and research positions, as well as internships in Vietnam and South Africa, before landing his first paid role in Malaysia with the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch.
“It was pretty much a dream job living in the jungle and working on a remote island, surrounded by coral reefs, by night we would search for turtles and by day we grew coral and counted fish.”
Thanks to COVID-19, Jordan had to leave the project and return to the England where he did a lot of work with Extinction Rebellion and developed his skills in activism and social engagement.
“While activism is important frontline conservation work, it can take a heavy toll on your mental health.”
Jordan decided to leave the city and return to the jungle, and took his current role with COPROT on the beaches of Costa Rica.
Working with turtles in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s lands and seas are exceptionally biodiverse and are home to many wild and wonderful species of plants and animals. Amongst these, Costa Rica is a breeding ground for five of the world’s seven sea turtles, some of which are threatened for a myriad of reasons. The COPROT project was established by Laura Exley in 2018 as a sea turtle monitoring and community development program on the Osa Peninsula. A team of volunteers, interns, and research assistants patrol 6 km of beach with local people, day in and day out, to monitor almost 7,000 sea turtles throughout the year.
Because this is a poorer area of Costa Rica, many local communities once relied on gold mining for an income and hunting wildlife for food. The COPROT project provides an alternate livelihood for local communities, as well as a different view of natural resources like sea turtles, including the monitoring itself as well as other income generating projects such as recycled plastic repurposing.
“We want to show people that nature can be worth so much more alive than dead.”
“I think a lot of projects are realising now that you can’t disassociate social justice from climate and environmental justice. They’re the same thing. So, if you’re not working with the community, then any work you do with the species is pointless”.
In this way, the turtles are an umbrella species for conservation in Costa Rica because by protecting turtles, you are working on so many aspects of climate change, plastic pollution, and protection of communities, beaches, and sea grass meadows.
A large part of the COPROT project is training local people. Jordan explains:
“The community is so knowledgeable about the local area, so it’s a process of combining this information with the best protocol on how to collect meaningful data.”
But at the end of the day, it’s all about building trust and offering a sustainable alternative lifestyle.
“I think in Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula in particular, trust is a big part of it because there’s been so many different projects and different people coming and going, it’s very hard for the local people to trust that if they invest their time and energy into a project that in one year or ten years, it won’t just abandon them or collapse.”
For this reason, when you’re establishing the foundations of a project, it’s so important to build longevity and multiple income streams into the model.
“So, it’s a slow process. It takes time but we’re definitely on the way to it.”
Converting awareness into action
Jordan has a lot of experience in activism for social and natural justice. From his experience, he explains that rather than simply glorifying the beauty and wonder of nature through documentaries, science communication needs to focus on the issues they’re facing and importantly, the solutions as well! Jordan explains:
“Being able to connect people more with the impact we have not just globally but in our own backyards is important because it makes these issues tangible and relevant.”
So often we speak about conservation as either an extinction crisis of the past or the climate crisis of the future to come, but our opportunity to act is in the present moment. Jordan believes that it’s important we understand how we communicate conservation messages:
“I think for a long time, the solutions have been put on the shoulders of the individual. And that leads to disengagement with the problem and can also lead to people being overwhelmed by the problem.”
“I think it’s important to highlight the issues, but also highlight that it’s not up to the individuals. Individuals can make a difference, but individuals need to come together to make positive change, because if we are just throwing it on the shoulders of young people saying, it’s your generation that needs to fix it, that’s too much!”
Rather than telling young people they need to save the world, Jordan suggests we empower people with the tools to become activists and encourage people to speak out to governments and corporations who have massive impacts on our world.
Within the context of global climate change and widespread biodiversity loss, there is a huge amount of pressure on people living in the world today. We asked Jordan about how we can remove this pressure (and guilt that comes with it) to encourage people to take action for conservation:
“I think it’s too much to put on people’s shoulders. I think it’s easy to beat yourself up for not being the perfect environmentalist but that’s not just you – if you aren’t the perfect environmentalist the world won’t suffer.”
“It’s so much better to have lots of imperfect environmentalists, than just a few people being perfect.”
Jordan believes the best way to overcome this pressure is to surround yourself with supportive and like-minded people, and focus on doing what you can (rather than worrying about things outside of your control). Because at the end of the day, you have to take care of yourself to be able to take care of the world around you.
Jordan is a huge advocate for having real conversations about conservation and that’s up to science communicators to build their confidence and knowledge on the subject – and then spread it!
“We shouldn’t be shying away from these serious conversations because although it’s scary, so many people don’t know how close we are to dangerous tipping points – end-of-the-world kind of stuff!”
When asked about his number one advice for people in the science communication and wildlife conservation space, Jordan’s advice is simple:
“Don’t stop having fun! As soon as it becomes tedious or difficult, you’ll give up on yourself so give yourself time to enjoy the journey and enjoy nature with others”
“Try and push your boundaries to make more of an impact, but make sure you’re still enjoying it and give yourself time to enjoy it – because you won’t be able to have an impact if you burn out”
And what about advice for chasing a career in wildlife conservation?
“I think a lot of young conservationists get bogged down with what I call research zombies, chasing degrees and publications and the next big title – but there are other ways to have an impact!”
Jordan’s five pieces of advice are:
- Find your passion – there’s no need to know what you’ll specialise in early on.
- Broaden your experience on different projects with different species and ecosystems.
“Run around the world, volunteer with different projects, different species, different people – and eventually you’ll find your circle and what you’re meant to be doing.”
- Enjoy the journey – don’t stress out.
“If you have a six-week internship, don’t spend the whole time stressing about where you’re going next. Instead, enjoy the journey, learn as much as possible, and make the most of each opportunity.”
- Focus on communicating and selling yourself as a professional whilst you’re learning.
- Stay flexible in your approach, but strong on your ambitions.
“Your dream might be to work with dolphins but you might not be able to find a role, so try something different – fisheries, ocean research, coral planting – and a dolphin opportunity will eventually come your way.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re not working in the exact role you’ve always dreamed of – any experience in the field is better than none. And eventually what you want and what you dream for will come – or it might change! You never know if you don’t put yourself out there.”
If you’re looking to get involved in wildlife conservation or science communication – both COPROT and One Planet Conservation Awareness have opportunities. COPROT offers internships, volunteerships, and research assistant positions throughout the year. And if you can’t make it to Costa Rica in person, there are ways to become involved in science communication or creative advocacy with One Planet Conservation Awareness. Simply search them on Instagram or check out their websites for more information!
“Anybody can be a conservationist. You don’t have to live in the jungle. Conservation needs everyone. We need lawyers. We need accountants. We need media people. If you have any interest in trying to protect the planet and the species we have on this planet, but you’re not quite sure how your skills can, then reach out to our projects and we’ll help you connect the dots to find a way that works for you!”
Keep in touch
Want to hear more from Jordan? You can find Costa Rica Turtle Program, COPROT on Instagram and their website, and One Planet Awareness on both Instagram and their website as well.
Author Profile | Susie Stockwell
Susie Stockwell (she/her) is a field ecologist, science communicator and creator of the blog and podcast, #itsawildlife, a platform to support people on their journey to work their dream job in wildlife science or conservation. Based in the beautiful Kimberley region of north-western Australia, Susie is passionate about finding novel solutions for wildlife conservation and opening up the space to promote engagement and involvement for everyone interested in pursuing this career.
Main image credit: COPROT.