28 January 2010

Explore Explore.org

These days, reading the newspaper can be a bit depressing for those concerned with protecting nature. Between the stalling of climate legislation and the lackluster Copenhagen conference, cold-stunned turtles in Florida, and ever growing patches of garbage in the ocean, its enough to make one want to run off and hide on a remote island in Mexico (like I'll be doing next week, stay tuned for highlights).

For people looking for a ray of sunshine, make your way over Explore.org. This website, recently redone with a user-friendly interface, has inspiring photos and videos of wildlife conservation (including gorillas and dolphins), cultural stories exploring efforts to revive traditional Indian music, and many other topics. Music lovers will enjoy a personal jam session with Jack Johnson in Hawaii.

15 January 2010

Seeing Turtles Makes You Happy!

In a recent column titled "The Happiest People" in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof reflected on reasons why Costa Rica was recently ranked #1 in the World Database of Happiness (what a wonderful name!) as well as the Happy Planet Index. (Regular readers of this blog will note we covered this story last July.) He assumes that disbanding its army 60 years ago, which has helped to the country invest in a national health care system (that ranks ahead of the US in some measures), a national education system, and a national parks system that protects one of the highest percentages of land in the world.

All of those things make sense and I'm sure play a part in it. However, Kristof misses one key ingredient that may play a role. Sea turtles! The country is home to several of the world's most important nesting beaches and successful turtle conservation projects. He comes close, talking about the beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife, and the strong ecotourism industry that allows Americans to escape from Nature Deficit Disorder. As we noted recently, seeing turtles can also make you greener.

(Note to Mr. Kristof, leatherback turtles are MUCH slower than sloths, at least on land! Let us know the next time you go and we'll show you...)

The current Costa Rican government doesn't seem to have learned the connection between happiness and sea turtles either, with a recent proposal to downgrade the protected status of an important leatherback nesting beach.

As a person who has helped hundreds of people see their first sea turtles in Costa Rica, I can personally attest to the smile-inducing power of the giant reptiles. Kristof also mentions two other countries ranking high on happiness lists, Mexico and Colombia. Is it a coincidence that both of these countries also have major sea turtle populations? I think not...

I'll be leading a group of 20 friends and family to Costa Rica this summer (keep an eye out for live posts from the beach in May and June). I don't think anything on that trip will generate more smiles per capita than watching a tiny leatherback hatchling make its way to the ocean.

Let us know if we can help raise your happiness index with a turtle trip to Costa Rica!