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Steve Jobs, Apple and the Sea Turtles

This will sound like a stretch, but sea turtles owe much to the genius of Steve Jobs.
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This will sound like a stretch, but sea turtles owe much to the genius of Steve Jobs.

As a young student of conservation genetics, my first computer was an Apple. At that time, geneticists went with Apple mostly by default as the graphics-rich software for sequencing DNA ran best, if not only, on a Mac. Some scientists had their Mac and PC side by side on the desktop. Others chose just to deal with the compatibility hurdles, Eudora issues and general stigma attached to their minority "Apple cult" status. But they stayed true to Apple.

There, in the National Marine Fisheries Service lab, as in genetics labs around the world, we used our Apples to sequence the mitochondrial DNA of endangered black turtles, distinguishing them from the Hawaiian green turtles. We used that knowledge to promote protections that are leading to the recovery of black sea turtles today.

Later on, about the time Apple began to stage its epic comeback in the late 1990's -- when Apple stared down its own extinction -- they asked to feature one of the sea turtles we had tracked in an ad campaign. The loggerhead turtle, named Adelita, was the first animal followed by satellite across an entire ocean. She swam seven thousand miles from Baja Mexico to Japan.

We accessed satellite data from a Mac. We built the tracking website on a Mac. We produced short QuickTime clips and shared the story with kids around the world on a Mac. Many of those kids were also on Macs in their classrooms.

Apple then told Adelita's story -- our story -- in a media blitz that included fold-out ads in Time, Newsweek, Life and a half-dozen major publications. They helped raise awareness of the plight of sea turtles and their amazing migrations.

Worldwide interest in and the success of that tracking, sharing and education experiment has since grown into, the digital hub for all things related to sea turtles. Today, you can follow dozens of species online in real time in every ocean and on most continents. The images, a video library, several data sharing and network-building projects are hosted on an Apple server, and maintained via iPhone and MacBook Air almost entirely by one very smart biologist, Dr. Michael Coyne, BAF -- bonafide Apple fanboy.

A grassroots sea turtle conservation network, called, was also born from the Adelita tracking project. A team based in La Paz, Mexico manages the network. They rock their MacBooks for sea turtles. They create guerrilla media with iPhones and iMovie. They project their stories on walls and white sheets in remote villages to communicate real solutions to the sea turtle crisis. With their Apple products, they help make conservation cool.

Just as Steve brought Apple back from the brink of extinction, Grupo Tortuguero has brought the black sea turtle back from the edge of extinction. They have saved thousands of sea turtles from death in soup pots as well as fishing nets meant for other species and on hooks set for sharks. Their model has spread around the world to Africa, South America and Asia.

On some level even the style and design of Steve Jobs' famous keynote presentations has influenced our communication strategies. Simple. Clean. Bold. Always different. That was Steve's way.

Our mantra is emotional connection. We mimic Steve's economy of words and numbers. Like him, we use just enough information to support our messages, nothing more. My advice to the graduate students I advise: "Watch a Steve Jobs presentation before you create yours." Don't just show up, break through with your audience.

SImply put, the innately useful and elegant tools Apple creates make it easier for thousands of sea turtle conservationists around the world to work better at what we love.

At Apple and in the world, the legacy of Steve Jobs is vast, complex and -- even though he is gone -- still unfolding. May it unfold forever.

That legacy, of course, includes helping to save millions of sea turtles and inspiring the modern ocean revolution with Apple products, the tools we love so much, the tools that flowed from the mind and the heart of one man, to the sea. Thank you, Steve.

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