“The starving four-month-old pup had several wounds and was much too young to care for himself.”
This was the sign we saw about Leo, a sea lion who was abandoned in Ocean Shores, Washington. I never imagined he’d come to mean much more to me and the group with whom I was traveling cross-country. But big and bizarre things happen when you’re traveling with 22 young marine professionals. And sometimes that includes adopting a sea lion.
So how did we get to this point? I had the delight of accompanying this esteemed international group who were in the U.S. as the part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). During their “Our Ocean: Young Ambassadors” trip, the group spent 10 days crisscrossing the country from San Francisco to Pensacola to Washington, DC. They visited national and local level officials dealing with oceans and the environment, volunteered by building an oyster reef barrier, and—yes, adopted a sea lion.
The idea to adopt Leo emerged while the oceaneers were exploring The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit veterinary research hospital and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals, outside San Francisco. Mar Rodriguez, a Venezuelan who works with rehabbing sea turtles, fell in love with Leo after reading his story. She pulled everyone together and took up a collection to adopt him.
“I have seen first-hand how helpful it can be to accomplish successful sea turtle rehabilitation, rescue, and release,” said Mar, “Adoption programs give the community a space to empathize with endangered wildlife and become part of the movement as strategic allies in conservation.”
By bringing a group of international professionals together, Mar was able to make a difference in Leo’s life. Exchange programs like the IVLP give participants and all those they meet a space to empathize with and understand people who are seemingly different than themselves, be exposed to one another, share stories, and become part of the movement as strategic allies in realizing the oneness of humanity. Now is a crucial time to expand our worlds, pulling together instead of pushing apart.
“We have to think globally through local actions that we can later link with our colleagues around the world to make a bigger web of collaborators and build a solid network,“ said Mar on the value of the IVLP program.
Thanks to the contributions of IVLP visitors, Leo’s recovery is a success story! The group has been informed: “After five months of rehabilitation, Leo tripled in size and proved that he is ready to return to the wild.” With the help of the Coast Guard, Leo returned to Washington state and was released at La Push, “a beach known to be a favorite hangout for Steller sea lions.”
Michelle Marijt from The Netherlands commented at the end of the program, “Although it might not be a straight path, we will find a way to protect the oceans. I am not alone. There are people around the globe fighting for healthy oceans, too. There is the need and passion to preserve the beautiful world that we know is vital to our survival.”
Vital, it is. Will you join these young Ocean Ambassadors in doing big and potentially bizarre things to make our world a better place?