Increased human traffic on beaches compacts sand making it harder and more stressful for green sea turtles to nest which can lead to decreased reproductive and hatching success. I came across this fact as I was writing my Extended Essay, a school research project, (EE) over the summer. This little fact, so minute in the grand scheme of things absolutely amazed me. The fact that humans simply walking can have environmental impacts. The fact that we are all so oblivious to the fact that our little everyday choices have impacts. I thought about this for a long time, and the more I thought about it, the more it made me think about myself. It made me think about what my presence, choices, and actions on this earth have done. 

I was thirteen years old, travelling with my family in Ecuador. We lived for a month in this small coastal community called Puerto Lopez. We were volunteering with an organization aimed at helping sea turtles by monitoring and collecting data during their nesting process. As I look back on this experience, I can’t believe how fortunate I was. But I was thirteen. I was more concerned about keeping Snapchat streaks and fixing my hair in the morning than genuinely wanting to help the turtles. I did my job though, I counted those eggs, tagged those turtles, and built that incubator. As I did my EE research this summer and became probably too familiar with the negative impacts ecotourism has on sea turtles, I looked back on this trip with a critical lens. Compacting sand. I remembered the times I wrestled my brother while running aimlessly on the nesting beach, compacting sand. I remembered the time I screamed at the top of my lungs when I woke up to a centipede crawling across my leg, probably scaring a few sea turtles off. And I remember the time when I accidentally forgot to turn off my headlamp, creating light pollution. But am I really going to shame and scorn my naive thirteen-year-old self? No that’s pathetic and pointless. Yet this made me think of some of my more present-day choices. Can I look back on some of my recent choices with a more critical lens? Would this be productive? Yes of course it is. How else can I make myself into a better person if I don’t reflect? 

I worked at a summer camp last summer. If you Imagine the most hippy-dippy granola camp you can think of, you’re imagining my camp. And of course,  what would that camp be without meditation? We meditated for the last fifteen minutes of every camp day. I worked five days out of the week for six weeks. That’s 450 minutes of meditation. In those 450 minutes, I reflected on myself. I thought about this compacted sand. I thought about how my small daily choices can define who I am. I know that in myself, I genuinely care for the environment, but I also recognized that this care is presently covered by a blanket of ignorance, naïveté, and laziness. How can I view myself as a person that genuinely cares for the environment if yesterday I drove my car to visit a friend who lives a five minutes bike ride away? Or, why do I still eat the turkey sandwich on Air North when I know the vegetarian options are just as delicious? Or why do I  buy a cucumber from the supermarket when I know I have one growing in our greenhouse? Because, like humans on earth, I am blinded by my own needs. I fail to put the effort into becoming a better person. I am so used to making these small daily choices because they are so easy and effortless to make. I know if I were to put two extra seconds of thought into these decisions, it could make a world of difference. I don’t want to buy into the tragedy of the commons of our world is today. I can say that I am an environmentalist as much as I want, I can put those environmental posts on my Instagram story as much as I want, but if I don’t put my money where my mouth is, try to make myself into a better person, and take those two extra seconds to think about what I’m choosing then I’m buying into our social norms. I confess that I have hardly even begun this journey. I’m not even close to calling myself an environmentalist. But it all starts with reflecting on yourself and your daily choices, confessing your problems, and figuring out what you can change.

The compacted sand is a metaphor for our situation as humans on earth today. The little eggs are our hopes and dreams covered by a blanket of sand, our daily choices. Every footstep that compacts that sand is another choice we make slowly covering our hopes and dreams. If we all put in a little bit of effort and jump over that turtle nest without compacting that sand, our hopes and dreams and those little baby turtles will all have a better chance of hatching and thriving.

Zach Zimmermann

About Zach Zimmermann