I cannot say that coordinating a sea turtle camp has ALWAYS been my dream. In fact, my sea turtle career started quite slow – or let’s say cautious – with usual, short volunteer placements in three consecutive years, before I committed myself to a long-term internship position.
It was then, in 2012, on the beaches of my beloved Juara Turtle Project in Malaysia, when I first thought that I might be wanting to do this for the rest of my life.
And it was another year later, in 2013, when I started to dream about coordinating a camp myself, or even owning my very own camp one day. At that time, I had started with my Master’s in Geography and knew that it would take me another year or two before I could fully commit myself to sea turtles.
My parents keep asking me why I continued with my Geography studies if – in the end – I decided to become a conservationist of a marine species: a profession that requires Marine Biology or no studies at all if we are honest (because everyone can dig out eggs and dig them in again! basically…). A question that is simple to answer: I love Geography, and when I was about to start into my Master’s I wasn’t ready yet to give up the option of becoming a real normal employee one day…
By now though, I seem to be a hopeless case for the german job market. And for many of my friends and family members, too. In times of uncertainty, I keep saying to myself that my career aspiration is not more and not less crazy than that of many others who wish to become actors, musicians, presidents or restaurant-owners in Spain. It is a dream which is worth giving a try.
Now, about seven years after I saw my first Olive Ridley babyturtles (four in total!) on the beach of Matapalo in Costa Rica, I have come to the point where I am ready to coordinate.
Now, after having finished my seemingly never-ending Master’s Thesis (about sea turtles, of course…) and enjoying german civilization for 11 months, I finally have the opportunity to commit myself to sea turtle conservation one hundred percent, full-time, without limits.
This blog is supposed to give all interested people updates on my experiences abroad, and it will portray my future success or failure in becoming a sea turtle conservationist.
Is this even a profession, you might ask.
But it is a calling 😉
There are a few people like me out there that have managed to become sea turtle conservationists. According to my superficial research of their personal backgrounds, there seem to be two main options:
1. They are professionals (marine biologists or academics from a related field) who work for big organizations. They mostly undertake research or have some sort of management duties. It seems that most of them live in the US and the associated islands in the Carribean. You could call these people usual employees which simply have an awesome job.
2. They are drop-outs who own their own project. They either ended up taking it over through a row of lucky circumstances and beneficial personal relations, or had enough personal savings, organisation and courage to start a new project on one of the remaining unprotected beaches.
So it seems to be possible.
But how many people in the consumerist modern society are dreaming of living this happy, easy, immaterial life on a tropical beach?
Well, you might not want to believe me, but I have gotten to know a lot of them. For one turtle beach there might be dozens of wannabe drop-outs who would love to live and work there. But spaces are limited, and getting there is not so easy. One major obstacle to me is that I need to live in foreign countries to do the job I love. These countries are mostly low- and middle-income nations which seek more development, more employment opportunities, and less westerners who conquer the space, gain the money and tell the locals what to do. Community participation and local involvement is the golden rule to run a sea turtle program with success. And the aim of nearly all programs is that one day, western academics like me will not be needed any more as there are enough locals available to do the job.
For me, after years of participating in sea turtle projects, accumulating knowledge, being trained, gathering experience and impressions and undergoing the most dramatic moments of sea turtle conservation,
I feel like I can’t do anything else than working with turtles.
For all my life, I intentionally circumvented industrial placements or geography-related side jobs in the “normal academic world”. I have never done any voluntary courses to improve my CV with things like computer software skills, leadership potential or other office skills. Instead, my CV is full of international travels, volunteer placements and sea turtles. If I was ever to apply for a “normal” job at a “normal” company, they would most probably laugh at me and ask if somebody forced me to apply, or if the world has run out of sea turtles and I need a reorientation. Yes, my CV clearly shows what I think about office jobs. And it definitely shows that I did not prepare myself for ever attending an office job in the future.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE to work on my computer, I love to write stuff, to create, plan, manage, coordinate. And I’m sure I would do great with a normal job (unless I get depressions or burn-out or whatever…). And if my plans don’t work out I will need to do one of these jobs one day. But I would perform very badly with the lifestyle, the obligations and restrictions that come along with it. I would just not be happy in the long run.
I kind of envy people who live this “usual” lifestyle and are totally happy with it – buy a car, buy a house, buy a lot of awesome things, go on vacation for two weeks a year, marry, have kids, meet up with your friends, stroll through the pedestrian zone each saturday and stroll through the park each sunday … Those people know that out there, there is much more than this, but they don’t care because they are fully satisfied with what they have.
However, I have also gotten to know a lot of people who live like this and are NOT happy with it.
They tell me how great it is what I am doing and that they would do it just like me if they could. However, those people COULD do it like me but they will never change anything.
They either believe that life is not there to make you happy, or they don’t have enough courage to break out of their secure, well established daily routine and risk to live with less money, less materialism, less insurance, less conformity and less “normality”. Everytime I meet those kind of people, I feel vindicated in my plans. And now is the time to break out of my conformity and to risk something, so that I do not end up like them.
So, to conclude this, I will try to live a happy life, and right now
Everything that makes me happy is a lonely beach with dense jungle in the background, a sea turtle making her way to the ocean and an international mix of cheerful and crazy volunteer companions.
So I’ll try my best. I am totally ready to return to Costa Rica, seven years later, back to the roots. And I want to demonstrate everyone including myself that I was made for this kind of job.