Defining Paradise

Gregg Treinish and his team at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation bring us stories from around the world about adventuring with purpose. Here, Aaron Teasdale writes about finding paradise—and helping save it.

Story by Aaron Teasdale

People have different definitions of paradise, but they always know it when they find it.

That’s how we felt when my family and I arrived at the untrammeled beaches of Popoyo, Nicaragua. My wife, two sons, and I were on a nine-month voyage through Central America on a self-created “school year abroad.” We found other paradises on our trip as we stayed in biological reserves and research stations, but we’ll never forget our two weeks in a surf shack on those golden beaches.

We learned the basics of surfing (fun!), saved the freshly laid eggs of sea turtles from poachers (drama!), and on midnight of New Year’s Eve my wife Jacqueline and I huddled on the beach watching distant fireworks explode across the night (romance!).

Like all paradises in a world shuddering under human impact, Nicaragua’s Pacific ecosystems are deteriorating. There aren’t as many fish, whales, turtles, monkeys and other species as there once were. I was gleefully catching knee-high waves on a battered surfboard when Jonah, my 11-year-old son, came running up yelling about sea turtles and poachers.

A minute later, my family was gathered around two local men eagerly scooping up the freshly dropped eggs of an olive ridley sea turtle. We’d been hoping to see turtles lay eggs on the beach, but that’s getting harder to do. They may be the most populous sea turtle, but olive ridley numbers have dropped 50 percent since the 1960s largely due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. After a tense confrontation, we gave the men $20 for the eggs and carefully reburied them in a different location (according to local friends, the eggs hatched about a month later).

Saving the turtles gave us eco-warrior warm fuzzies, but gathering an ocean water sample for an ASC-supported study on marine microplastics was an education on the challenges turtles and other marine life face in their aquatic home.

It’s estimated that 10 percent of all plastic trash ends up in the ocean. Bobbing plastic debris is not only unsightly, but when it and the chemicals it contains break down over time, it ends up poisoning the water itself. The tiny plastic particles that come from this decomposition, known as microplastics, pervade our oceans. Ingested by aquatic organisms, they move up the food chain, jeopardizing the health of fish, birds, mammals, and of course, us.

We went on our Central American journey to have adventures and learn about the world. Helping study microplastics through ASC helped my boys understand how our behavior as a species affects even far-flung ecosystems. We were glad for the opportunity to give back, in some small way, to our growing knowledge of humanity’s interconnectivity with all of the Earth’s biological systems.

We were also stoked to learn how to surf, because surfing is awesome. We hope our boys and generations of sea turtles will have clean, healthy oceans—and plenty more paradises to discover—for many years to come.

Writer and photographer Aaron Teasdale explores the confluence of wilderness, adventure, indigenous peoples and conservation. He would have stayed in Central America forever—if they only had skiing. Find more of his work in magazines, websites, his occasionally updated blog, or on Facebook. Learn more about ASC on the Field Notes blog, and our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.

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Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow. Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.