By Nicole Weatherholtz
Rob and I met Princess Aliyah and her husband, Ron in November 2015 because of their mutual passion for drones. I found the couple extremely interesting and knowledgeable and discovered that they had been on a trip to South Africa in 2014 in order to use drones to help with anti-poaching methods for the endangered rhinos. After our first encounter, I joked with Rob and told him that it would be so exciting to offer our help and go on an anti-poaching trip with them one day. I never dreamed that one day we would actually go on a trip with Princess Aliyah and Ron with the sole purpose of helping endangered animals; only this time, we would be helping sea turtles instead of rhinos.
On August 10, 2016, Rob and I arrived in Melbourne, Florida with our two children for one of the most enlightening and rewarding trips I have ever been on. Kashmir World Foundation was hosting the Fly for Conservation Workshop, which was a three day long workshop that would teach students to build and fly their own drones. Rob was to help assist the students and I came along with our children to learn how we could help save the sea turtles. The first night of the trip, we went to the Turtle House in Melbourne, Florida, where we learned about the sea turtles that came to the beaches in Melbourne year after year.
During a two hour presentation given by Dr. Erin Seney, we learned all about the loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, and leatherbacks and why it was so critical to have teams of animal conservation scientists and volunteers to help these animals. Our group included Kashmir, the five year old daughter of Princess Aliyah and Ron, as well as my eight year old daughter Lilian and my twelve year old son Jarek. Kashmir had been to St. Catherine’s Island off the coast of Georgia earlier this year and she even helped to relocate nests of sea turtle eggs, so she was extremely excited to find out that the team at the University of Central Florida had several rescued hatchlings that they were going to allow us to release into the ocean that very night!
We waited until nearly 11:00 that evening to see whether members of the UCF team were able to locate any momma sea turtles laying eggs on the beach, but due to the cold water temperatures, no sea turtles had been spotted on the beach that evening. Our group drove to the beach with our loggerhead hatchlings in tow, and prepared to release them into the sea. The children could barely contain their excitement and instantly fell in love when Dr. Seney removed the lid from the container that held 10 tiny loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings. We headed to the beach and listened to instructions about how to hold the hatchlings and where to release them. Kashmir waited patiently and held out her hands as the first hatchling was given to her. She softly exclaimed “Baby sea turtles!” I was in awe of how lucky I was to witness three small children holding tiny little animals from a species that was struggling each year to survive and flourish. Jarek and Lilian were the next to receive their hatchlings and they were more excited to receive their hatchlings than I’ve ever seen them on Christmas morning or their birthdays, even though they knew that they would only hold the hatchlings for a brief second before releasing them into the sea.
Experiences like these make us realize that our planet is an incredible one, with so many treasures and mysteries to treasure and explore. Teaching our children at a young age to do everything in their power to save the animals we share our planet with is so important. My children learned more during this trip about how they can impact and save the Earth than they have ever learned in their classrooms, and I hope to be able to continue to introduce them to ways they can make a difference.