20 Apr #80 Christine Figgener on Sea Turtles vs. Single-Use Plastics
We all know plastics are polluting our planet. And we all know we should be limiting our use of plastics. But words are just words. Sometimes you need to show people the destruction up close to spark real change.
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
Christine Figgener, Ph.D., filmed a viral video that helped spark real change.
As a top marine conservation biologist, Christine Figgener is used to the dark side of conservation. However, when she and her team stumbled upon a male sea turtle with a plastic straw shoved up his nose on a research trip in Costa Rica, she didn’t expect that experience to change her life. Her colleague pulled the bloody straw from the poor turtle’s nose, and as Christine filmed, she knew the world needed to see it, too. She posted the unedited video to YouTube, and within days it went viral.
Now, nearly six years later, Christine sees that event as a catalyst for the global anti-straw and single-use plastic movement. Several major international brands, including Starbucks and Disney, removed plastic straws from their offerings. The video is still sparking action in ways Christine never thought possible.
As a research scientist, Christine has spent the last fifteen years dedicated to the conservation of sea turtles. Her passion for marine life and educating people on the dangers of plastics led to her spot as the Director of Science and Education for Footprint Foundation, where yours truly is also on the board.
In this episode, Christine tells me all about the ugly parts of conservation and how it almost derailed her life’s mission. But through it all, saving the sea turtles has remained her priority. So she’s educating the masses on how single-use plastics contribute to the pollution of our oceans and environment. I can’t wait for you to hear her story and be inspired by her passion. I know I was!
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- How Christine fell in love with marine biology
- The dark side of conservation science
- The story behind the viral video
- Single-use plastics and the destruction they cause
- Interesting sea turtle facts
- Climate change and sea turtles
- What you can do to help
Download the MilkyWire App so you can help sea turtles today!
Christine: IG @seaturtlebiologist, FB @cfiggener, Twitter @ChrisFiggener
Footprint Foundation on Facebook and Instagram @footprintus.foundation
@footprintUS.foundation, Twitter @FootprintUS
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 15 years exploring the planet looking for healthy foods, superfoods, environmental solutions, and I’ve had my mind blown along the way by the people, the far off places I have been, and the life-altering events that have changed my life forever. My goal is to help you dive deep into some of the issues of our modern-day life, society’s fatal conveniences. The things that we do that we’re indoctrinated into thinking we have to, even though those things are negatively affecting us, and in some cases, slowly destroying us and even killing us. Every week, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. My hope is through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. Together, we’ll explore how you can make small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you, the people around you and the planet, so let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Darin: Hey, everybody, welcome to the show. I’m Darin. This is The Darin Olien Show. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks for your time. This is another incredible guest, Dr. Christine Figgener. We sit on the same board. I just realized this incredible company, Footprint, which is creating the largest alternatives to single-use plastic using plant-based fibers and plant-based dyes, she’s on the board. She’s not only on the board, she’s running and pushing for the foundation of ending single-use plastics. So I didn’t even know that she was the same woman filming her science team in 2015 when they captured a Costa Rican turtle. And this turtle had a plastic straw embedded in its nose. I know you’ve seen that. If you haven’t, we’ll put it in the show notes so you can check it out. But this was a moment where she was capturing the extraction. They didn’t know what it was. And this poor turtle had this straw perfectly shoved up its nose. Long, huge straw and they pulled it out on camera. And it freed this turtle of suffering, and it changed Christine’s life. But listen, she’s been a marine biologist, an ocean advocate who’s been passionate about conserving sea turtles for her entire career fighting plastic pollution, obviously, because she’s intimately connected to watching plastic decimate the love that she has for sea turtles. In 2018, Christine was named Next-Generation Leader by Time magazine for outreach work. She is the director of science and education for Footprints Foundation where she inspires each one of us to help eliminate plastic from the environment and food chain by making everyday changes. She is actively involved in sea turtle conservation through the nonprofit coasts, C-O-A-S-T-S. So this conversation was talking about her backstory, talking about how she got so passionate about it, talking about that part where she got famous for this video, just an emotional video of watching them save this sea turtle from pain and how that changed her life. And if you don’t think that our choices are not having a direct impact on the environment, then you’ve been living under a shell. So check out the video and listen to this conversation of a dedicated scientist, a dedicated biologist, a dedicated human who has put her heart, soul, and brains behind doing something better for the environment. You will be touched, you will be moved to take action towards some of the nonprofits that she supports. All right, enjoy this conversation.
Darin: I am super excited to talk with you. We share a love for Footprint. I recently came on it as an advisor and obviously, you’re running the foundation and super excited getting rid of this damn plastic in our world is obviously a love of both of ours but intimately connected to you and your work, which just off the bat, the famous, infamous video of you pulling, in 2015, pulling that straw out of that poor turtles– And that was an endangered turtle too, correct?
Christine: Correct. Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t me that pulled, I filmed. So my colleague who did the pulling, but yeah, all sea turtle species are endangered. So it doesn’t matter which one it was, all of them are endangered.
Darin: To get to that video, let’s unpack this. What looks to be and it sounds to be like a lifelong literally as a child worked all the way undergrad, master’s, Ph.D., and now you’re living and dedicating your life to marine biology and specifically turtles. And then the story of how you got intimately connected to the devastation of what we’re doing with the plastics in the world. So why don’t you just unpack that a little for me? And like how take us through your journey of exploring how you got here? And why the love of these animals grew so much.
Christine: As you said already, as a child, I was really fascinated by the ocean. Actually, it started out with a little of a love-hate relationship. My very first vacation at the ocean was in Greece. So I’m from Germany, in case you weren’t able to tell by my accent. So I guess I was a little bit scared to go into the water. But my dad is a German engineer so he’s very pragmatic. And instead of letting me get away with a temper tantrum on the beach because I didn’t want to go into the water, he actually walked up to the tourist stores and bought me a pair of goggles, and told me, “You know what, you don’t need to be scared of anything that’s underwater, just look at it. And you probably think it’s pretty cool.” And he was right. So after that, they had to drag me out of the water when I was standing there with blue lips, shivering and telling them that I’m not cold, I don’t need to get out of the water. But I think that was probably around the time that I decided I want to be an ocean explorer. And it was definitely fostered by documentary filmmakers such as Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass who was just kind of the Austrian version of Jacques Cousteau that not a lot of people know him, actually. And what I really liked about Hans Hass was that actually, his wife was the protagonist of many of his films. And I think that was for me one of the role models and also gave me the idea that I, as a woman are able to do that. Unfortunately, even now, it is still kind of a dude’s world. I feel when you watch a lot of documentaries about animals, look at Shark Week, it’s always male presenters. So it’s difficult for a woman to actually find role models that show you differently. So I luckily had that one model. And another big hero of mine probably was Jane Goodall. So I found her book in a library. And I just thought it was absolutely insane that a woman was able to travel all by herself to Africa, to really follow her dreams, study the animals that she loves. And I looked up to both of those women very much. And so when I started to kind of get a name to the ocean explorer where I found out, okay, that’s actually called a biologist, so I will have to study biology. I, even in my teens, worked towards that goal because back in the days, we had to go and actually learn Latin, for example. So when I had to choose my second foreign language in Germany, I actually chose Latin. I started interning in an aquarium for many, many years. And then I went abroad as well to the US because I knew most of the scientific literature is in English. So I didn’t want to kind of stay behind on that one either. And then I started to study biology. And I have to admit, I didn’t start with sea turtles. So the reason I wanted to become a marine biologist was actually humpback whales. So my family is really musical. So we do a lot of music. Most of us play an instrument. We did a lot of singing. And I was totally fascinated by the songs, how humpback whales are singing. And I wanted to study how that works. And you know, what they might be coding with their singing. And it was more of an accident that I ended up in Costa Rica. So I had just started my masters and there was kind of a notice on the blackboard where there was a project looking for research assistants in Costa Rica. And I thought that sounded really cool. I’ve never worked with sea turtles, but they were paying room and board, and I was a poor student, so that sounded great as well. And I went over to Costa Rica, and totally fell in love with the country, with back then leatherback turtles. And when I finished my time here, my boss actually said, “Hey, don’t you want to, you know, come back and actually work for me?” And I said, “Dude, I still need to finish my studies, I just started.” And he said, “Well, why don’t you come and do your thesis here.” So that’s what I did. I convinced a professor in Germany to supervise a thesis in Costa Rica on my own funding. And I barely went back with some of the samples, analyzed them in the lab. And then just with the raw data in my luggage, I moved to Costa Rica full time and started working with him, and have been pretty much in Costa Rica ever since. So what we do mainly here is conservation work. That means we patrol the beaches, tried to protect the nesting females and their eggs when they’re coming to nest. And I did that for many, many years. And then I noticed that it is not that easy as a woman in science, even with a Master’s to really be taken serious, which is really sad if you think about it. I mean, you have all the knowledge that you gain. I mean, it was eight years, pretty much I did all of that. And then something else happened. Actually, something a little bit sadder. So since we’re doing a lot of night patrols, we also encountered people that are not so nice. So we have poachers, of course, on the beach as well, incertain beaches. Not all of them in Costa Rica are a little bit unsafe, especially the ones that are really close to the large ports, like Fremont for example. And so we have a lot of drug trafficking and such on the beach. And one of my good colleagues and friends was killed during one of those patrols. And that was for me, the moment that I kind of connected to the universe, probably so to say and said, you know what, I don’t know. If what I’m doing right now here in the field is enough. Like yes, I want to protect turtles, that’s my passion, but I feel I’m not doing enough. I feel so powerless and I decided, okay, maybe I need to go back to school, do my Ph.D. because I didn’t know what else to do to raise my impact, and it was really interesting. So I kind of pursued that, and within the first year of my Ph.D., that is when the video happened. So sometimes now looking back, I feel the universe answered my request a little bit differently than I expected, but it gave me this incredible platform and probably the increased impact that I had wished for. I also got my Ph.D., but I feel it’s not adding so much value any more than I had hoped for compared to the amount of people that are now listening to maybe what I have to say if that makes sense.
Darin: So there’s a lot of things you said there. And the one thing that I just want to, and even though it’s painful, I’ve been getting involved or I guess seeing more of the poaching intensity in different parts of the world. And so in conservation, I want you to really also just break down conservation because I don’t think it has its due course and just people understanding what that actually means from a lot of different perspectives. But from this case, you had a friend that literally got killed trying to conserve these turtles. That is so incredibly intense. I can’t even imagine that the thing that you love in terms of the turtles, someone wants to destroy it so intensely, that they’ll kill someone in order to do that. How do you get your head around that? How do you reconcile that? And how do you rectify that aside from yes, the universe, I do believe put you in the right position to receive that, but it’s like I can’t imagine what that’s like to have to confront?
Christine: Well, I mean, I think, first of all, people always think of sea turtles as something very romantic. So if I tell them, hey, I work with sea turtles, they think of beaches and bikinis and coconuts. I don’t know. Just kind of a romantic idea of strolling on the beach. But I think actually working in conservation is sometimes really incredibly toxic and ugly just because you really are confronted consistently with the darkest notions of humankind, if that makes sense. And you are getting constantly challenged in your worldviews as well. Because you coming from another country, in my case, and as a woman, and I’m getting into a culture that I, first of all, don’t understand. So I always think of me, as you know, this little yellow person from a yellow planet coming to this blue planet, and I just don’t get it because I’m thinking yellow and everybody else thinks blue and speaks blue. And with the years, of course, I have come to understand, I’ve immersed myself. But first of all, I cannot get rid of my yellow sometimes, if that makes sense. So in the end, I become green. But there are still moments where it gets so– well, it crosses the line. So I can reconcile it, actually. In that moment where my friend, Haida, was killed. That was definitely probably the most traumatic experience in my life so far, just because, of course, it was my friend that got killed, but he got killed doing something that we all were doing. And I don’t think we ever thought much about it that it could actually end like this. I mean, we were in our 20s, we were young, and invincible, pretty much. So, I mean, for us, it was incredibly devastating because I think we really felt incredibly powerless. That was like I think the feeling that I felt most like I can’t do anything about it. And I also can’t bring him back to life. So I know I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could have done differently that maybe would have saved him, which is, of course, stupid. But I think this is like a process you’re going through. And then, of course, moving forward, you’re also thinking, okay, how can you not make this happen again? So how can you keep your people safe? And I think also, the other part was that it was a pretty ugly aftermath and a lot of people trying to use his legacy for their own purposes. And I literally had to step back from all of that because I think a lot of times people didn’t even really know him. And I mean, he was part of my turtle family. And I don’t know if people understand what that means. So I trained him, and I lived and worked with him 24/7 for several years. So we moved from different projects in Costa Rica from one project to the next. So he was like my friend, my colleague, my brother, and it was absolutely devastating. I think that’s the only way of how I can describe it. And I think that was the first time in my life that I felt I’ve lost the compass of where I’m heading in my life. And I’m a person that has a lot of direction. So I was completely lost. And I mean, of course, when I tell quickly the story, it doesn’t really do justice to how long that process might have been until I was over and kind of figured out of how to continue living, and how to continue also doing the job without giving up, probably.
Darin: Yeah, there are two directions to go, either this is too intense and this is too dangerous, I’ve got to change my direction. Or, like you said, let’s be aware of the situation, but how can I continue on and do the thing that he gave his life doing? And so I assume then, that you took the latter and you went back then and got your Ph.D. So what was that point where you said, okay, I have to continue, and if I continue, this is how it’s gonna go?
Christine: Yeah, so I actually left Costa Rica for the first time since I moved here. And I went back to Germany. I need to really step back, rethink everything. And I just felt I didn’t want to– I want to go back. I mean, I’ve missed the beach, I missed the turtles, I missed having a purpose. I think that is really what was really driving me the entire years. And I just thought I do not want to go back in the same situation as it was before. So I was working for other organizations, I had bosses that told me what to do and how to do it even though I might have had already more experience at this point. And also like the situation that my friend was killed and also might have been due to certain boss’ decisions, so I really didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to be the one that is able to decide my own fate, I think. And so that was why I said, okay, in order to be autonomous as a scientist, I will have to get the degree that is kind of liberating me from all else instead of the ring that bounds of them all, it’s exactly the opposite, right, the degree that frees me to do whatever I want to do. So I think that was my thinking back then because my intention was to come back to Costa Rica, and pretty much get my own nonprofit, which I have now and I’m very proud of. I mean, it was definitely a few years until I got to this point.
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Darin: So you continued on, you got your Ph.D., and then you said that this very auspicious, serendipitous, and gut-wrenching moment happened where the intersection between this precious creature that you’ve been dedicating your life to and humanity came crashing together. And this video was seen by, I don’t know how many people now, 50 million or so. Talk to me about that. And I’ll put in this show the show notes so for people who can go see that and check that out and how powerful that was, but I couldn’t imagine something that you love so much and are dedicating your life to and to see this straw come out of the nose of this turtle and the turtle suffering. So talk me through quickly about what that meant to you moving forward?
Christine: Well, I mean, at the point that when we found that particular turtle, I don’t think it is very rare. Like I said, our work sometimes is really ugly. So it’s not the first time we have seen a clash between plastic and turtle. But I think it was this one particular item. I mean, you see plastic bags and fishing lines that are super common. And we did not expect it in a seemingly healthy turtle that just had something funny encrusted in its nose, which could have been a barnacle or something else. And we’re pulling this plastic drinking straw out of its nose in a moment. But we also didn’t expect to find anything like that. We were in the open ocean, we pulled him out he was mating with a female. And I just remembered for us, it was absolutely shocking. We didn’t even talk. I mean, we literally sat on the boat. We call it a day right after we released him. And everybody was lost in their thoughts, you know, when people just kind of follow the train of thoughts, but then your eyes meet every once in a while and you’re just like, what did just happen? What was that? Is that real? Did we just pull a plastic straw out of a turtle’s nose? So that’s how we kind of went for two hours back to the [00:24:44] I mean, I think we had a little debate about how and if we should even publish it because it was pretty brutal, pretty cruel looking, pretty gory, all the blood. I mean, I filmed it like this, you know, headshot, close up. And I’m always very much for being authentic. So I’m kind of tired of just hiding and sugarcoating everything for the public just because everybody can sleep a little bit more soundly. So I was like, no, I’m just gonna as is like, uncut and raw with all the cursing in it. It’s gonna go on YouTube just like that. I mean, my colleague, he did a cut version because he’s British, and he doesn’t like cursing so much, I think. But I really didn’t want to hide any of– also, because I think you feel how startled we were on the boat as well while we were figuring out what we were actually looking at. So yeah, I mean, I think that is one of the reasons why this video is so powerful. It’s just the raw thing that we witnessed. And it is really putting the turtle in front and center. So I mean, it’s not about us saving the turtle, but it’s really about the turtle being the object of intense suffering right there. And suffering because of an object that pretty much every single one of us has used at one point in their life. I don’t think there’s anyone in this world that can say, I’ve never in my life used a plastic straw, probably. I don’t know, maybe there’s somebody but it’s very rare. So I think just seeing that it’s one turtle and one straw, and just knowing how much is out there in the ocean, and can lead to even greater suffering is absolutely mind-boggling.
Darin: So what was that like, I mean, when when you saw all of the response?
Christine: It was definitely overwhelming. I think it was two weeks really of craziness. And I mean, we’re tucked away in the jungle. So the communication pathways are not always super easy. So cell phone reception doesn’t always exist and media channels calling us up and also trying to get the actual message across because I think there’s a lot of people that were, I don’t know, having other intentions. And we were really interested of saying, okay, it’s about plastic and why we should not use single-use plastics. So I think, yeah, I was overwhelmed at the beginning. And I also sometimes even now when people can walk up to me and they say, hey, I’ve seen your video, and it’s incredible what that has caused. I’m almost like, yeah, I mean, I don’t know, are you sure it was just the video because I mean, really, one video is all that it took? It seems a little bit surreal. I sometimes maybe see it as like this stone that falls into the water and causes the ripples that slowly turn into the waves. And you also have to give credit to the people that have already long worked on the plastic pollution issue. And sometimes I feel almost sad for them and all the effort, the scientific articles that have been written since the ’80s. I mean, imagine, the first turtle that has ever been found with plastic was like in 1984 or something, a leatherback turtle with a plastic bag. And all of those articles just kind of disappeared. Nobody really pays attention because it’s not visual, it’s so abstract, right? So we know the data, but we don’t really have this emotional linked to it as much as with the turtle. So I think only over the years, I’ve really realized what I have been gifted in a way. I mean, it’s horrible to think about it in that way because it has been built on so much suffering. But I feel maybe I’ve been able to turn the suffering of a turtle into something good. It’s a good movement that we have been able to establish because of this. And I think a lot more people are now listening because they have seen it and are able to really connect to this idea that yes, plastic is bad. And it’s not only bad for turtles, that’s the interesting part. It is also bad for us humans. And there’s more and more data to back that up as well. And actually, that’s really scary. And I mean, if you don’t care about the turtle, fine, but you should really get scared when you hear how much damage plastic does to our health, to our human health, to our unborn babies.
Darin: Yeah, it’s permeated throughout everything. We’re wrapping our food in it. We’re consuming that, the hormone disruption that it’s causing, the plastic particulates we’re consuming. I think the status like a credit card a year.
Christine: It’s a credit card a week.
Darin: One week?
Darin: That’s crazy. And so we’re wondering why we’re neutering our society through this hormone-disrupting chemicals, petroleum-based and people don’t realize that this is literally petroleum. So this is oil and dirty, dirty chemicals that we’ve decided to put water bottles and food consumption. And it’s just a really bad experiment on ourselves. And so now this turtle and the straw become kind of the muse of this bigger conversation and throws you in the middle of this war that we have between profit-centered, capitalism and a clear no regard for human health or the environment. And so now, after a little time, you decided to pretty much take that on too.
Christine: Well, yeah, I mean, I’m the spokesperson for the turtles, I feel ever since I published the video, and now I feel like, okay, my turtles can’t talk so I will talk on their behalf of what I witnessed. And I’m just gonna say it as it is. And of course, yeah, it throws you into this whole bigger arena of different interests. But I have also come to realize that sustainable living is a huge thing. Everybody of us tries or hopefully tries to do their part. But it’s also very, it’s a very privileged world. So it’s people that are able to afford maybe to buy organic stuff or to do yoga or to do I don’t know, whatever else. It’s like this gentrification of old ideas that white people have kind of stolen if you think about it, and make it into something expensive. Because I mean, what is organic? It’s like you grow it in your backyard without pesticides and stuff. So yeah, I mean, all of that. Even veganism, I feel there’s a lot of cultures that have gone vegan for many, many, many centuries. And it’s not an invention of white people right now. So it is all about making also plastic. So if you think about it, look, I live in a developing country, if you see the companies, the big polluters that we have out there, it’s like literally a handful that you can kind of countdown, they do sparkling beverages, for example, to not name any names. But what really, really, really gets me angry sometimes is that the same companies are producing good stuff in countries that have good legislation. So look to Europe, for example. So the healthier ingredients, there is no preservatives, there is no artificial flavors, no artificial colors. And then you look over here in Costa Rica, for example, the same companies just dump all their junk onto those people that don’t have the education and also not the means to buy something else. And that goes with plastic as well. So actually, there is a lot of companies that in Europe or maybe even the US are producing already plastic-free packaging, but then again, they come here and nobody cares, nobody holds them accountable, and they dump all that junk. So what we really need is that those companies take responsibility and find ways of how they can produce for the mass market. I’m not talking about the 1% that is able to afford bog, whatever, unpatched stores, but really the little people, they don’t have other options than buying what is in their store right there. So we need other alternatives for that. And I mean, this is the reason why I actually was really fascinated with Footprint.
Darin: Yeah, me too.
Christine: That is exactly their idea. They’re not trying to go small. They’re not trying to make it for small market. No, they’re trying to get to the big polluters and convince them, hey, there is an alternative, it will not cost you any more. So you do not have any excuse to poison the world anymore.
Darin: Exactly, and they’re doing it right. So they’re making millions and millions of units for some of the biggest companies out there. Cargill, Pepsi, McDonald’s, all of that stuff. And I think it’s this pressure that the more people are aware that we need to demand this consumerism change. And I think there are some good people in these corporations that are also seeing that and go on, you know what, the writing is on the wall, we need to start moving in this. And then a company like Footprint really says, listen, we’re gonna do it at scale, and then really make this change. And it’s exciting because I didn’t know about Footprint until I was like, really, wow, there’s a company really working at that level to change this in a big way. And it’s required to turn off that faucet of all of that plastic use for sure.
Christine: What is really important as well is that I feel the company, because the demand is changing, right? That’s one of the things I’m super excited about since five years I would say about when the video came out, you can really sense that all of a sudden you see more alternatives in the stores already. Now there is less plastic packaging for some [00:35:01] alternatives. But what I’ve also notice, a lot of the big companies are trying to get out cheap. So there’s a lot of brain washing or non-genuine ways of trying to kind of get out of the recycling and other stuff that’s really not working. And also have materials that are not really sustainable. Because first of all, you know, just because you make plastic from corn doesn’t mean it’s biodegradable. Those kinds of things, or just because it says it is compostable it doesn’t mean you can throw it on your home compost. No, you need an actual industrial facility with certain temperatures. And I think the US, for example, has just a few hundred of that. So not every community even has the ability to compost. So this is so important that we educate consumers and people really know what to look for so they don’t fall in that trap of supporting companies that are really not really interested of making a change.
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Darin: I’m curious about the turtles and about your life, and then you’re nonprofit now, so what’s your life like right now? What’s the day in the life or the week in the life, like you’re still obviously helping the turtles, what’s that like? What are their lives like? And obviously, they’re clashing like many other animals with the human race? What is conservation to you right now? And what does that look like for the health of them, and moving forward and trying to change this whole thing?
Christine: What my life looks like right now, we have a property and a house in Costa Rica, which I kind of have as a dual function. So I live here but it’s also our project house. So during the season, we are right now in between nesting season, I actually have the research assistants living here with me. We have all our equipment here. The night patrol starts from my house, the training sessions are happening here. And of course, the data is written while I still have my day job with Footprint Foundation. So usually, we are on the beach at night for about five to six hours to find the nesting females, relocate the nest, take different data on the turtles. And then for my research, I’m actually installing satellite transmitters, so I’m following different turtles once they leave the area and go off to feed. And I have a bunch of locals that are part of my team which is super important for me because it provides an income to the community and hopefully decreases the need to even go out and poach for eggs and turtles because the income comes elsewhere from. And then I have international students that come in from all over the world. My next team, for example, I will have somebody from Scotland, somebody from Germany, somebody from Australia, and somebody from Canada. And I have 12 of those throughout the season. And yeah, so my day usually begins, I get up in the morning. I go with my rescue pup, Fiona, for a walk looking for usually also turtle tracks and see if any of our nests hatched. And I do a little bit of sports. I have a bad knee so I’m trying to really keep up with my muscles, try to strengthen it. So it’s a lot of strengthening work and yoga and also to balance out the stress. So I don’t know. What I’ve noticed especially over the years is that compared to other of my friends back from school is, I don’t have a job that is from eight to five. So my private life and my professional life is pretty much one and the same. And it’s really, really difficult and sometimes really dangerous that you don’t burn out. And I think I had several moments in my life where I was probably close to, if some friends wouldn’t have, you know, kind of noticed that and said something about it. So I’m trying to be a lot more mindful of my time and how I kind of structure my day as well because of that. And yeah, and then we usually do some gardening as well here. We grow our own foods because it’s also, first of all, it’s cheaper. So we don’t have to buy that much food for our research assistants, but it’s also healthier because I know what’s on those plants. And yeah, in the evening, we do usually excavations, that means are the nests that hatched get excavated, and we see how the hatching success was, and then we will hit the night patrols again. That’s kind of what our life is like.
Darin: Wow. So those night patrols are specifically to see the health but also still kind of the poaching aspect of it too help protect them.
Christine: Exactly, yeah.
Darin: And what is the biggest threat?
Christine: I would say we have about, I call them five apocalyptic riders for sea turtle populations. So first of all, of course, it’s the overexploitation. So that means, the poaching of eggs, the poaching of entire females for their meat or their shell depending on the species. Then the next thing is fishing. So the over fishing and especially the industrial fisheries leads to the death of many, many, many adult turtles. So the thing with sea turtles is that they need quite a long time to even reach adulthood. So it’s about, depending on the species, between 15 and 45 years. And only one out of a thousand babies makes it even to adulthood. So that means, the adults are like one out of a thousands. And then fisheries come and they die in nets. Totally, unnecessary. I mean, adult turtles have barely any natural predators anymore and one female can lay thousands of eggs, so that means, she can really single-handedly pretty much restore an entire population almost. And so it’s absolutely detrimental to see how those adult turtles get killed by fisheries, but they also get killed for example in plastic pollution. That’s the other big biggie and that’s the reason why I’m still outspoken because that is something that you can have at home with. I mean, of course, not everybody can patrol the beaches for poaching. A lot of people are already aware of the fishing issues, so a lot of people don’t eat fish anymore. But plastic, we use it still way too much, and that’s really something everyone can help with. And it also ties right next into the other problem which is climate change. So climate change is, of course, a problem because sea levels are rising. So we’re losing nesting habitats and also the sex of sea turtles is defined by the incubation temperature. So that means, the temperatures will say if it’s female or male. In English, there’s kind of a funny way of remembering. So, hot temperature, they are a little more females. And cold temperatures to more males. So you can remember hot chics and cool dudes. If you want to remember it. And that means we’re producing way too many females. So we have beaches where you have 9 females to 1 male. And that later on, of course, will lead to massive problems because there might not be enough males any more to actually fertilize those few females that will be left in those population. And of course, climate change, one big factor that’s causing climate change are fossil fuels and what is plastic made from, fossil fuel, right? So it’s all interconnected right there.
Darin: So literally, with the temperatures rising, it’s making it warmer, therefore, directly connected to the warmth increasing the female expression of the turtle. So you’re seeing it right in front of your face, all of these females are expressing themselves out of these rising temperatures directly connected to this planet changing and the ocean warming. That’s incredible. That’s like a thermometer. That’s like the nature’s thermometer just looking right at these turtles.
Christine: We always talk about sea turtles as the poster child or as an indicator of what is going wrong in our oceans. So plastic is one thing, but climate change is also another example of where they are indicating, hey, something is seriously wrong right now and it’s human caused, so please do something about it.
Darin: Yeah, and a lot of different directions at the intersection of the turtle itself. You got human poaching, you got climate change itself, you got temperatures rising, and then you have overfishing. You have all of these things intersecting the turtles themselves and they’re all pointing at us in what we’re doing as a result of this indicator species, if I could call it that, and this turtle. Even listening to this and probably people listening, it almost feels intense. It feels very intense and then how do we start changing that? So you joined, you have this nonprofit, you joined Footprints Foundation, the head scientist there, man, in your ideal world, what can this foundation do and how can people help support this because we definitely have to change the way that we’re doing things.
Christine: I think the issue, all of it considered, and I think in conservation, there’s a lot of issues, a lot of times, it feels they’re overbearing, very overwhelming, almost hopeless. So first of all, I think I need to remain critically optimistic. I think this is like the default. If I do not believe that we can change something, I can literally give me the bullet right here. I mean, I don’t even need to do anything more. But the next thing is somebody, very intelligent, once told me that how do you eat an elephant? You know, one bite at a time. You will not probably be the one person or one person will not be the person to fix it all but you have to realize that many little parts will make a big hole. So that means if you do your part and as little as it is, you don’t have to be perfect. Another thing that really bothers me sometimes with all the conservationist and vegans and zero waste people which is great if you do all of that but they are very judgemental towards the people that are not yet at their level. And I just applaud everyone that is trying to do something, you know, that goes needless for one day or that reduces one item of single-used plastics or whatever else you can think of to do your part. I think little by little, if everyone would do that, we would actually make a huge dent. We wouldn’t have the issues that we have right now. If really everyone would do just one thing. So I think we shouldn’t get depressed and overwhelmed because I know for sure that we’re not– it’s not just me. It’s so many people that work on the same issue with me. And that is probably one of the most positive things of working in conservation that you’re carried by this energy of these people.
Darin: And that’s key. And it’s getting out this information because we have to tell people what’s going on. Like the video, people have to see it because we’re so distant from information sometimes, we’re so disconnected with what’s going out there in the world but people like you who are on literally in the sand, in the ocean interacting with these species who can tell us exactly what’s going on and can show us the graphic nature of the straw embedded in the nose of the turtle is that thing that we need. We need to be shaken so that we can be aware and make a choice because life is like that. We’re just kind of numb until like kind of slaps us around a little bit and we can listen to people like you and say, okay, cool, let’s create less suffering and it literally is one plus one plus one plus one and that’s 7 billion people and the world can make those changes. So people listening right now, what are some things that they can help you directly with if there is anything in the foundation and ways that they can support you?
Christine: Yeah, definitely check out our educational material at the footprintfoundationus.org page, I think will be linked. And if you’re interested of supporting our sea turtle work in Costa Rica, actually, the best way is doing that over an app, which is kind of the– I would call it I was the patrion of conservationist called Milkywire. It’s on for Android and the iPhone app as well.
Christine: Milkywire like just milkywire. And you can be a supporter, I think it starts about $3 or $5 a month which helps us to continue the work that we’re doing here. So I can be found as the sea turtle biologist or Christine. I think there’s a search button in the app. Or you can make a one-time donations so that will definetely help us go forward and continuing what we’re doing. And I think if you don’t have the means to do that, you can definitely do a lot of stuff at home. So think about what you’re using that is made from plastics. So I think an easy way, for example, is stop using PET bottles, plastic bottles, so that means buy yourself one reuasable bottle that will last you for the next 10 years. And try to think of other ways of how you may be able to do something else. So for example, don’t use cutlery when you’re ordering food. Bring your own containers when you’re ordering food. Bring your own shopping bags. I mean, that is probably the one thing I don’t even know why people still use plastic bags when they go shopping, everybody shops in their car. I mean, man, just take the car outside and you forgot it and pack your bags in your car. If you coffee drink, get yourself a mug, a reusable nice thermose. And I know a lot of coffee shops actually give you some money bag if you’re bringing your own. So there’s many, many ways and many people that you can follow as well that give you great tips. And what I did few years back, I actually challenged myself for a year. So every month, I kind of thought about one item in my households that I wanted to replace with something not made from plastic. I think the most challenging part was really my cosmetics. As a woman, there are shampoo bars, there is creams in glass. There are so many ways of how you can do better. And always keep in mind that it is actually also good for your health. So every time you heat up something in plastic, everytime you drink out of a plastic bottle, you are actually ingesting massive amounts of plastics. The good thing is what’s good for you is also good for the turtles. So the last plastic you use, the last plastic I will find inside of my turtles or in the ocean.
Darin: That’s so powerful and it’s so necessary for us and I just want to applaud you. It’s been such a pleasure to talk with you, Christine, and your dedication throughout what you’re doing with the turtles, for the environment and ending the single-use plastic journey. It’s so required. And I’m definitely signing up for the app and the patron, and I’ll be giving, I’ll challenge everyone here to give a few bucks every month to help Christine carry on and support and protect the wildlife and the turtles, and push back on the big companies and plastics. Thank you so much and I can’t wait for people to know what you’re doing so we can have more and more impact. So as my sister of Footprint, it’s been absolute pleasure.
Christine: Thank you so much for having me, Darin.
Darin: Thank you.
Darin: That was a fantastic episode. What was the one thing that you got out of today’s conversation? If today’s episode struck a chord with you, and you want to dive a little deeper on a variety of topics, check out my live deep dives on darinolien.com/deepdive. More episodes are available on darinolien.com as well. Keep diving my friends, keep diving.
Darin: This episode is produced by my team at Must Amplify, an audio marketing company that specializes in giving a voice to a brand and making sure the right people hear it. If you would like or are thinking about doing a podcast or even would like a strategy session to add your voice to your brand in a powerful way, go to www.mustamplify.com/darin. That’s www.mustamplify.com/darin.