March 5, 2016 was one of the best days of my life, as I was honored to receive an Archie Carr Best Student Paper Award in Biology (runner-up). While I know that based on the laws of physics and chemistry that the universe strives to be in dynamic equilibrium, what happened March 6, 2016 nonetheless appears to be a cruel twist of fate.
Sixteen years ago or so my parents let me bring home a red-eared slider turtle from the pet store, and I promptly named it Hercules (only to find out about 4 years later that SHE was a female). While we acknowledged that it was a big decision, I don’t think any of us realized what the consequences of such a decision would be – that turtle ended up inspiring a career in sea turtle conservation physiology research and a lifelong vow to help turtles every way I can until the day I die.
Hercules, I had hoped we would have 16 more years of adventures together, but it appears that that was not in the cards for us. It was painful to be 3,000 miles away in Peru and receive this news, but we will have a proper burial when I get home. We have been through so much together, and coming home at the end of a long day to watch you swim, chase fish around your tank, go crazy over peeled grapes or take you outside to crawl in the grass were simple pleasures that has kept me going through some very difficult transitions in my life, and it has been for as long as I can remember. You were with me throughout my childhood, you went with me to Louisiana to start my master’s, you came along during my fieldwork in Florida, and you have seen me through the first 8 months of my PhD in Texas.
My only consolation is that I finally got to put you into the beautiful tank you’ve always deserved that I could never provide in the past, so that at least you could have a month or so swimming freely and living the high life.
Thank you for changing my entire future and helping me discover a deep passion that gives meaning to my long days and purpose to my long nights. Thank you for helping me find hope and happiness. I don’t think you ever cared much for me, but thanks for never complaining in a frequency that I could hear, and I hope that in some way I was able to show you how much I love you.
Every time someone asks me how a girl from Iowa decided to pursue a career in sea turtle biology, I talk about my childhood friend, and how it all began.
While some people might say you were “just” a turtle, to me the world is a sadder place without you in it.
With a heavy, heavy heart, I renew my promise to find answers to difficult questions, develop new techniques and resources for biologists and conservationists, and fight to make this world a better place each and every day for turtles and other organisms like you. I also promise to do everything I can to inspire, encourage and mentor the next generation of biologists and conservationists so that I can one day rest in peace knowing that this important work continues. Because as much as I know that turtles need people like me, I also know that people like me need turtles on this planet so much more.
I promise to do all this, and to never forget all that you meant to me and what the life of a single turtle can represent in this world.
Swim free at last, my dear friend and hero, thanks for everything. This one’s for you.