Jean Beasley - 2013 Ocean Hero Award Winner! - Oceana USA
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July 30, 2013

Jean Beasley – 2013 Ocean Hero Award Winner!

We are thrilled to announce Jean Beasley as the winner of our 2013 Ocean Hero Award. Jean established and runs a sea turtle rehabilitation center that has rescued and released over 300 sea turtles over the last sixteen years. After hundreds of nominations, a dozen inspiring finalists, and over 7,000 votes, Jean was voted the clear winner! Upon hearing of the win, Jean said, “[I was] a bit incredulous. I know that all the people that were nominated were worthy…I also have really strong feelings about the fact that it takes us all – whatever people are passionate about and whatever they’re doing and wherever they are – to help the oceans, and help the planet, and it benefits us all.”

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Jean explained. “I am very, very fortunate because sea turtles seem to illicit very strong feelings from people. I see it all the time when they visit our rescue and sometimes they’re seeing sea turtles up close for the very first time, they have a very emotional reaction to them. I say all the time that if I could bottle that charisma, and sell it, I’d never have to worry about finances again! Without that charisma from those animals looking into your eyes – I like to say that they look down to your soul – we wouldn’t be able to do the things for them that we do, that’s for sure. It’s a privilege to work for them.”

“When we started our rehab work with sea turtles sixteen years ago, this was not so much on my radar, it was more about honoring my daughter and her work and the legacy that she left me, and about these animals that I had fallen in love with twenty years before. None of us ever planned to have a sea turtle hospital, it was an injured sea turtle that did it.”

Nearly two decades ago, Jean rescued her first injured sea turtle and brought it to an animal hospital. After several hours, Jean had to return home for the night, but asked the hospital if she could come back the next day to visit the turtle. As Jean tells the story, “They said, ‘What are you talking about? We’re not keeping this turtle here!’” And so Jean adopted the injured sea turtle, housed in a tank outside a volunteer’s house, “and suddenly we were in the sea turtle rehab business!”

From one tank in a backyard, to a 900 square-foot facility, Jean’s center has steadily grown over the years, but her current facility cannot hold the forty-odd turtles that Jean is rehabilitating at any one time. Luckily, Jean has received donations, both large and small, from the community, allowing the center to move into a 13,000 square-foot facility in the coming weeks. “Some of the most important donations we receive are from the little kids that walk up with a baggie of lemonade stand money,” Jean said. “Those are the stakeholders in our organization, and that’s how we got to build that building.”

When asked about the dangers sea turtles face today, Jean described the situation in clear, and stark, terms: “If these ancient creatures were able to survive the cataclysmic events that reshaped our planets, and wiped out the dinosaurs, and all that the planet has challenged them with all those years, and they can’t survive what we’re doing today to our oceans, we’ve got a problem, Houston!”

“We’re releasing them back into a habitat that is fraught with horrible dangers for them, and in some cases, worse than it was a year or two years before we got them. For the most part, we’re throwing them back out into the great unknown. We love them, and we want them to be safe, and yet we have to return them to Mother Ocean. Each turtle takes a little piece of us with them, and our hope that they live long lives.”

Unfortunately, sea turtles face numerous threats to their safety. “I think that the one that I’m the most horrified by is the plastics, because that’s something that we can do something about, and we have to do something about it. We have so many turtles all the time that have impactions and pass pieces of balloons that they ingested, and then there are the microplastics and the floating garbage patch that’s changing the way the ocean exists. It’s a horrifying problem, and I think the most horrifying thing is that it would be a fairly easy problem to solve, and yet we don’t,” Jean said. “We’ve become the generations of throw-away, and we’re paying a huge price for that.”

“Also, we see a lot of recreational boat strikes. If people would just put cages on their propellers, we would see a lot less problems, and so would manatees, fish, and other animals as well. We also need to continue to do better to develop fishing gear that has a lesser impact on sea turtles.”

Her diagnosis of our oceans may sound dire, but Jean has not given up hope. “This is what I try to challenge people – don’t try to do it all, do one more thing, because if all of us did one more thing, the impact would be huge.”

Finally, we wanted to know what Jean thought her greatest inspiration for the sea turtle center, her daughter Karen, would think of her work. “Over the last years of her life, we spent a lot of time together. She was the one who wrote our first mission statement, organized our beach monitoring program, and recruited the volunteers. When things were not looking as good for her, and she talked about leaving me her insurance money, she said, “If I don’t make it, do something good for sea turtles.” It took me a number of years, because the right thing hadn’t come along. We had no vision of a rehab center. That was not the plan. It took that one little turtle that had no place to go…all of a sudden we were in the rehab business without any choice…I know that she would be happy with it.”

We have no doubt that Karen would be proud of her mother’s work. Jean Beasley’s passion and dedication is infectious, and made her a clear and deserving winner of this year’s Ocean Hero Awards. Congratulations, Jean!