A Young Environmentalist
Through the efforts of Zander in promoting the survival and welfare of various sea turtle species around the world, numerous people have started to follow his example and have begun campaigning to protect these amazing creatures.
The Turtle Talks activity book, which was personally written by Zander to help inform people of how important preserving turtle species are in a fun-filled and interactive way, has received overwhelming positive response from the international community. More than 250,000 copies have since been distributed to schools for free, which has reached an estimated number of around ten million children, teens, and adults. To date, the Turtle Talks activity book is named the world’s bestselling publication on sea turtles, and has become a powerful reminder of the significance of these wonderful creatures.
For his extraordinary efforts in promoting the welfare of sea turtles and increasing the awareness of what needs to be done to protect them, Zander has become a recipient of several awards and accolades that simply prove how much of an influence he has become throughout the world. He has received the Presidential Environmental Youth Award, a prestigious award given for youths who have made a positive impact in the area of environmental conservation and protection.
Zander has also received the Brower Youth Award, the Blue Vision Award, and has become a finalist at the famous BR!CK Awards. More recently, Zander was honored by Youth Service America by including him in their list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World, a true testament to all of his achievements ever since he started his philanthropic work.
Advocating for sea turtles may seem to be quite a peripheral issue for some of us, but Zander explains, “What affects sea turtles affects all marine life.” Sea turtles are an important part of the aquatic food chain, and their extinction would cause a domino effect that would greatly affect all other creatures of the sea. This is why Zander is so passionate about protecting them—not only for their magnificence and beauty, but also for the effects of their absence in our waters.
Zander believes that every person in the planet has an innate desire to contribute positive change in our world. The problem that many have is that they could not find a way to channel this desire, which is why they need a leader to guide them. Zander said in a message he wrote:
“I know that we all want to see change in the world. The hard part is finding that one thing that we could do to make a difference. I promise that if you walk outside wherever you are, there is an opportunity waiting for you. It could seem as trivial as protecting sea turtles. I challenge you to do something that you have never done before, open your eyes and see what your community needs. People who have found their passion can trace it back to one moment. My hope is that you will find that one thing, because once you do, it will grab you by the hand and never let go.”
Zander Srodes was born in 1990 in Placida, Florida. Growing up near the beaches facing the Mexican Gulf, Zander developed a love for the outdoors and adventure. He had a fairly normal life, hanging out with friends and often spending time with them at the beach. His family also shared the same love of the outdoors, and often took weekend excursions at the stunningly beautiful coastal community of Little Gasparilla, a place that would later on play a significant role in Zander’s quest for saving sea turtles.
As a student, Zander was exceptional in that he exhibited traits of brightness and intelligence that was considered advanced for someone his age. Zander was often praised by his teachers for his amazing intellect and his ability to quickly catch up. He took a particular interest in biological sciences, although it would be years later that Zander would finally focus on this subject.
Zanders Starts Getting Concerned about the Environment
In 2001, when Zander was only 11 years old, he had an encounter that forever changed his view and his life. While he was walking along the beach near their place, Zander came across a few yellow stakes which marked the areas where the sea turtles had just nested. That evening, while Zander was setting off some fireworks, he was spotted by a sea turtle patroller and was lightly reprimanded, with the patroller explaining that Zander was interfering with the sea turtles that have been nesting in the area for more than 65 million years.
That night, as he went home, he could not stop thinking about what the patroller had just told him. Zander had always watched stories about sea turtles on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic, but he never thought that he would be involved in the life of these species himself. Later on, he said:
“I thought that if I don't know about these endangered species, then neither do my peers. Since that day 10 years ago, I have been working on sea turtle conservation.”
A few days after his encounter with the sea turtle patroller, Zander went back to Little Gasparilla to learn more about the life of sea turtles in depth. In that town, he met Linda Soderquist, an elementary school teacher who took Zander under her tutelage and taught him about the dangers that sea turtles face in the modern world. Linda also took Zander with her when she monitored turtle nests on the island, and had him experience and witness first-hand what it was like to be in the presence of such magnificent creatures.
Linda became a powerful inspiration and role model to the young Zander, who was intrigued by the kind of life that these sea turtles have. When Zander left Linda’s tutelage, he started developing a teaching program that would make his fellow youth aware of the things that he had learned about—the danger that the sea turtles are facing and how people can help curb it. With the support and encouragement of his parents, Zander was able to draft a program which he then presented to the local community foundations and schools. Eventually, Zander applied for a local youth grant and won it.
Educating Kids about Turtles
This was how Turtle Talks started. Zander used the grant to fund his travels as he went to various events, schools, and libraries and spoke to the people, both adults and children, about sea turtles and how important it is to help save them from extinction. In these speaking engagements, Zander would give out his activity books for free to those who attended. In an interview, Zander gave a brief explanation about what happened after winning his first grant:
“With that money, I started going to schools, libraries, and special events, speaking to kids and adults about sea-turtle conservation, because the sea turtles that nest along the beaches on the west coast of Florida are extremely threatened. I do a PowerPoint presentation and have a young person put on a turtle costume I made. I also have a biodegradability chart explaining how long trash takes to break down in the ocean. I bring a sandbox and have kids bury a Ping-Pong ball in the sand, just like a mother turtle would do to make her nest on the beach. I raised money through grants to pay for the printing.”
The first place Zander went to was the Mote Marine, a well-known research and educational institution (the institution has its own aquarium), which focused on aquaculture, as well as marine life rescue and rehabilitation. When Zander spoke to them about his advocacy, the institution’s Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Program gladly volunteered to provide Zander the slides and additional information to help him create his presentations.
Turtle Talks Sells More than 250,000 Copies
From there, Turtle Talks exploded supernaturally. As Zander went on winning more grants and gathering more supporters, he was able to reach out beyond the confines of the locality and expand Turtle Talks nationally. Eventually, the program became very famous through the Turtle Talks activity book, and went on to become known worldwide. The book became so famous that to date, more than 250,000 books have been distributed to various parts of the world.
With the success of the Turtle Talks activity book, Zander followed it up with “The Gopher Tortoise Activity Book” and the “Freshwater Turtle Adventure Activity Book.” So far, more than four thousand copies of these books have been printed to meet the international demand.
Speaking at TEDxTeen and Receiving Accolades
Through Turtle Talks, Zander became a sought after speaker for environmental talks, more specifically in the subject of sea turtles. One of Zander’s most famous speaking engagements was when he was invited to speak in TEDxTeen, a gathering of well-known and influential youths from all over the world to speak about their advocacies and programs.
Aside from speaking in numerous events, Zander also became a recipient of a number of awards that truly showcased his influence and inspiring work throughout these years. In 2007, Zander won the Presidential Environmental Youth Service Award, in recognition of his extraordinary efforts in increasing the awareness on sea turtles and their survival. In 2010, Zander received the famous Peter Benchley Blue Vision Award. In 2012, Youth Service America recognized Zander’s efforts and put him in their list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential People in the World.
During one summer, Zander worked as an intern for Akazul, a project of the city of La Barrona, Guatemala, where he took part in several activities comprised of watching after sea turtle habitats and helping people understand the importance of sea turtles. After the end of Zander’s internship with the project, the leaders of Akazul said of him:
“We would like to say a fond farewell to Zander Srodes who has been with us on the project for the majority of the nesting season. He has been a real asset to the team and we cannot thank him enough for his contribution to the project. We wish him the best of luck for the future and hope to see him back in La Barrona soon.”
Today, at age 22, Zander continues his quest in promoting the welfare and protection of sea turtles. He knows that there is still much that needs to be done, but he never lets these seemingly huge obstacles deter him from pursuing his goal. He always goes back to that moment when he first met the sea turtle patroller, and uses it as motivation in ensuring the survival of the magnificent creatures of the sea. Zander says in a blog he wrote:
“Now, as a young adult, I travel the world speaking to communities about the importance of protecting their natural resources… I challenge you to do something that you have never done before, open your eyes and see what your community needs. Stay true to why you work hard; make it about the aim and never steer in any other direction!”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Turtle Talks
Awards and Achievements
- 2005: Received the Brower Youth Award
- 2007: Received the Presidential Environmental Youth Award
- 2008: Received the Volvo for Life Award
- 2009: Received the Peter Benchley Blue Vision Award
- 2009: Became a Finalist for the BR!CK Award
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America