By John Tapley
For 14 years, Save Our Leatherback Operation (S.O.L.O.) has been devoted to the protection of the giant leatherback sea turtle: a critically endangered species, which is found in all of the world’s oceans.
Previously, the IRS-certified, non-profit public charity primarily pin-pointed its goals off the waters of Indonesia, but has finished the mission thanks to the dedication and hard work of many international volunteers and local villagers. The group is now expanding its operations to Philippine waters, and with the help of local organizations, is conducting a unique expedition this spring open to advanced divers who wish to join an important globe-sweeping cause. The dives will occur in an area, which has been identified by 50 scientists as “The Best Dive Location on the Planet”.
From April 21 to May 1, S.O.L.O volunteers and guests will embark on a heroic journey off the coast of Mindoro Island in an area recognized for its beauty and rich biodiversity: Verde Island. Vacationers will board the uniquely designed 16-passenger vessel, Big Beth, which includes its own personal chef who prepares surface interval meals. Participants will enjoy the very best of open ocean diving the area has to offer in exclusive sites: three daytime dives and one at night, each day of the trip. The expedition will also feature luxurious, five-star accommodations; the acclaimed Marco Vincent Resort comes equipped with a full service dive center, large air conditioned rooms, laundry services, and much more. The adventure will also feature a number of events, which include three island BBQs, an original Texas BBQ at the resort restaurant prepared by S.O.L.O. founder Dr. Larry McKenna, and a farewell party with unique gifts for participants.
At the core of these amusements is S.O.L.O.’s mission to safeguard the giant leatherback sea turtle: a mighty, yet fragile member of the oceanic world.
According to Dr. McKenna, the plight of the giant leatherback sea turtle is one that cannot be overlooked. Due to climate change and human interference, these reptiles are quickly losing their native nesting grounds by steadily encroaching sea waters and increased temperatures that destroy countless eggs before they allowed to properly mature. On average, giant leatherbacks can weigh in excess of 3,000 pounds after reaching full maturation and must eat the equivalent of their weight in jellyfish and sea squirts every day in order to survive. The leatherbacks are prominent predators in global oceanic food webs, and as such, the after effects of their depopulation have been staggering. Jellyfish, the turtles’ primary food source, are being allowed to propagate en masse, which is causing chaos in the natural order. Large concentrations of jellyfish now crowd beaches around the globe, and left unchecked, have gorged themselves on newly hatched fingerlings of tuna, salmon, swordfish, and other enjoyable seafood staples, which has resulted in higher prices per pound at the grocery store.
McKenna and his volunteers are working to reverse the giant leatherback sea turtle’s steadily quickening course to extinction through activism, education, and good will. During field missions, S.O.L.O. members carefully transport eggs from hazardous shorelines to more protected locales on the same beach, enabling hatchlings to zero in on their birthplace when they return to nest, thus fixing a broken reproductive cycle. During S.O.L.O. expeditions and events, guests learn the ins and outs of the turtles and their behavior through direct, hands-on interaction and educational materials provided by the charity. Additionally, because the group is completely non-profit, funding is generated through expedition expenses, direct donations, or donated pieces of art, which are exchanged for cash during S.O.L.O. events.
This exciting S.O.L.O. excursion to Verde Island and other exciting dive locations is available to divers who have advanced open water certification and at least 50 dives in their logbook; guests will also need to provide a reef hook, safety sausage, and proof of medical evacuation insured by either DAN or PADI.
The cost of this voyage, per person, double room occupancy is $2,885, which includes transport to and from Manila, three meals a day, weight belts, and weights; participants can also opt for a single room at an added $35. per day. As strong allies to S.O.L.O., the resort and dive facilities are providing this expedition with a huge discount of $1,000 per person. Gear rentals are not included and can be acquired at Marco Vincent Resort. Additionally, U.S. tax paying citizens who join the expedition can receive up to a 100 percent tax rebate from all expenses related to the mission.
Spaces aboard the Big Beth have filled up fast. Interested participants will need to register quickly in order to reserve a spot by contacting McKenna at firstname.lastname@example.org; a $500 deposit fee is required before March 15 and full payment is due by April 10.
The complete description of this new expedition, including the application forms can be located at a new web site at www.leatherbackturtleexpeditions.org.
For more information on S.O.L.O., its current happenings, and how to join the cause, visit www.saveourleatherbacks.org.