Nature Seekers receives US$1.5m from Canadian NGO

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A member of Nature Seekers’ beach patrol team tags a nesting leatherback turtle at Matura beach. – Photo courtesy Nature Seekers

VISHANNA PHAGOO

Nature Seekers, a non-profit community-based organisation in Matura, was given a donation of US$1.5 million by the Age of Union Alliance that hails from Montreal, Canada to continue protecting the leatherback turtles.

The alliance is a conservation group that was established on October 21, 2021 to carry out projects worldwide that entails protecting wildlife and human life. Founder of the Age of Union Alliance, Dax Dasilva, 44, is an environmental activist, and founder and CEO of Lightspeed Commerce, a retail tech company. Dasilva pledged US$1.5 million from his personal wealth after learning of the work done by Nature Seekers.

“I just found the story to be very moving about how one person’s will to make a difference and actually to protect nature by uplifting a community and people is something that we’re seeing a lot around the world.”

He said groups like Nature Seekers are deeply rooted in the communities they are based in, which he finds inspiring as it shows what one person can do and not just for nature, but for the community.

“For us, it’s the kind of story we feel is going to inspire people all around the world and inspire communities in similar situations to what Matura was, maybe 30 years ago, when Nature Seekers was just starting and had an uphill battle, to the days when it started getting support from the community and the government.”

Dasilva said he is proud to be a part of this project, seeing the changes and adaptations made by Nature Seekers to combat new challenges such as climate change which affects leatherback turtles and its nesting.

“That’s why we’re there with the funding to make sure that the project continues to evolve to address new challenges.”

He said Nature Seekers’s projects aligns with his alliance’s goals as it’s locally led.

A leatherback turtle heads out to sea. – Photo courtesy Nature Seekers

“I think it’s a really important endangered species for us to protect, I think we have a responsibilty and I think it’s a beautiful project because the leatherback turtle is the joint responsibilty of TT and Canada. We’ve tracked with GPS, the migration of the leatherback turtles and while they may nest in Matura and Grand Riviere, they migrate to Canada, the Atlantic Coast where they consume jellyfish and actually improve the Canadian fishery.”

Dasilva’s love and fight for the environment did not appear overnight, he said as a teenager he would participate in a number of protests against the logging of forests in British Columbia.

“I think that really impacted me to drive to the protest area where we ended up saving that forest called Clayquot Sound, but the drive to that area was kilometre after kilometre of just destruction. I think that really affected me and showed what destruction is possible when we don’t act for nature, and so, I always felt that when I had the ability and resources that I would want to spend a lot of my energy and resources dedicated to protecting wildlife and wild areas that we still have on this planet.”

Dasilva and the alliance is working on nine other environmental projects, some in Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa and Haiti. He added that in the Congo, his team had also been working on humanitarian projects which included creating job opportunities for women in the communities they ventured into.

“Every one of the projects in Congo, whether it was creating nurseries for the community, planting of the forests which provides jobs for women, or the humanitarian work we’re doing for the batwa pygmy people that no longer have access to the forests since the 70s – many of them are guides and rangers in the national parks – but a lot of communities are lacking employment opportunities and education. So we’re working on micro loans, education for young batwa – all of those efforts help ultimately protect the forest, protect the wildlife because it uplifts people.”

Dasilva said the Age of Union Alliance is just starting its drive to conserve the planet and its species, and there are more projects in the Caribbean to embark upon. But the focus for now is on the safety of the leatherback turtles.

“We’re going to be publicising a lot on why the world needs to come to Matura, and see the incredible nesting of the leatherback turtles. It’s really a phenomenon that’s truly unique in the world and that Trinidad is taking well care of, and that we should all be in support of.”