Date: June 15, 2009
Contact: David Godfrey
For people involved in efforts to protect sea turtles, this Tuesday, June 16th, has special meaning. On this day 100 years ago, Dr. Archie Carr, the man recognized as the “father” of sea turtle research and conservation, was born in Mobile, Alabama.
For many area residents, Archie’s name is known primarily in association with the 20-mile stretch of coastline from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach, which was designated as the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Western Hemisphere and the largest nesting population of green sea turtles in the United States. It contains important nesting beaches for leatherback sea turtles as well.
Few people fully understand who Archie was or why he was so important to the world of conservation. Dr. Carr was a revered zoology professor at the University of Florida, the world’s leading authority on sea turtles, a brilliant writer of scientific and popular literature, and an internationally acclaimed advocate for conservation. His knowledge of the world ecosystems remains legendary.
In 1937, Archie become the first person to receive a doctorate from the University of Florida’s zoology department. In 1956, Dr. Carr published his award-winning book, The Windward Road, which alerted the world to the plight of sea turtles and spawned a global movement for their protection. The book lead to the formation of the first organization dedicated to protecting sea turtles, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) in 1959. Dr. Carr and the CCC convinced Costa Rica to establish Tortuguero National Park to save the largest nesting population of green sea turtles in the western hemisphere and to set up a research station there, which is now protected as the Dr. Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge in the Limón Province of northeastern Costa Rica.
Based in Gainesville and now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the CCC continues to carry out Dr. Carr’s mission. Archie’s family life was also full—and intertwined with his professional life. His wife, Marjorie Harris Carr, was herself a distinguished conservationist. The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is named after Marjorie’s legendary effort to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from digging a giant canal across Florida to connect the Atlantic and the Gulf. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection honored both Carrs with the dedication of the Archie and Marjorie Harris Carr Building in Tallahassee. Archie and Marjorie raised five children. One of their favorite get-aways was a cabin deep in the woods of Ocala National Forest. That cabin was recently re-discovered and currently is proposed for restoration.
It would be fitting tribute for all of us to reflect, like Archie did, on the wonder of nature and the mystery of sea turtles. Pick up a book he wrote or read about him in “A Naturalist in Florida” or “The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles.” But to truly honor Archie Carr, one need only take up the cause for protecting wildlife and wild places. With a little effort to darken the beach during nesting season, to support land and marine conservation efforts, and to support research and education, we can all contribute to sea turtle conservation. Archie would be very proud.
Submitted by David Godfrey, Executive Director, Caribbean Conservation Corporation; Charlie Pelizza, Refuge Manager, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge; Paul Tritaik, Refuge Manager, J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.