Wallace “J.” Nichols spends his time discovering nature. He spent his youth exploring oceans and forests, as well as his own family history. Resulting in a fascination for genetics and animal migration, as well as human culture and conservation—these have been the topics of his undergraduate studies at DePauw University, graduate studies at Duke University and University of Arizona, his academic research as a Fulbright Fellow and as a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences.
Through field research, his work with commercial fishermen, and the time he spends in coastal villages, he encounters among people a common appreciation for the ocean’s beauty, abundance and mysteries. Nichols finds successful conservation efforts often include unexpected alliances and that there is common ground to be found between so-called “enemies” of nature.
Dr. Nichols has undertaken the task of reaching new constituencies with a positive and inclusive conservation message and building a network of like-minded people, from diverse regions, backgrounds and careers who share a commitment to maintaining abundant life in the oceans and on the coasts. In 1998 he founded the Grupo Tortuguero, an international grassroots movement dedicated to restoring Pacific sea turtles and to sustainable management of ocean fisheries. In 1999 he co-founded and for five years directed WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team dedicated to the protection of coastal wilderness where he and a diverse group of partners organized fishermen to protect endangered sea turtles and helped coastal ranchers protect their shores for future generations. In 2003 Nichols and eight others trekked 1,900 km along the coast from Oregon to Mexico to bring attention to coastal and ocean issues. He also spearheads the Ocean Revolution, a program that inspires, involves and mentors the next generation of ocean conservation leaders.
Currently, J. works with several universities and organizations to advance ocean protection, including California Academy of Sciences as a Research Associate, Conservation Science Advisor for ProPeninsula, on a global bycatch study with Duke University and Blue Ocean Institute, and has served as an advisor or board member of Turtle Island Restoration Network, Biosphere Foundation, Animal Alliance, Coastwalk, Drylands Institute, Oceana, and Reef Protection International. For two years he served as Senior Research Scientist at the Ocean Conservancy.
J.’s projects and philosophy incorporates participatory science, social networking/community organizing, and creative communication to inspire a healthier relationship with the sea.
J. is author of more than fifty scientific papers, book chapters, popular articles, and reports on sea turtle ecology and ocean conservation. His efforts are featured in National Geographic, Scientific American, Time, Newsweek and other international media. He is the author of the children’s book Chelonia: Return of the sea turtle, which has been translated to Spanish and is distributed throughout Mexico to underprivileged youth. He is also co-author of the screenplay Adelita’s Journey based on the true story of one loggerhead sea turtle’s epic 24,000 km migration from Japan to Mexico and back home again. J. continues to share his research with millions of school children around the world through school and aquarium visits, field trips, the Internet and various publications and writing projects.
Dr. Nichols is a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and a member and former Regional Vice Chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group. He currently advises a group of dedicated and energetic graduate students at universities in both Mexico and the U.S.
My hobbies: When I’m traveling or at home I greatly enjoy swimming, hiking, kayaking, trail running and getting in the ocean. I have an apparently genetic inclination toward old International Harvester trucks, which can often be found parked in the yard. Currently “fixing up” a 1958 4WD pickup, and previously a 1972 International Travelall was my trusted Baja field vehicle. I prefer eating “slow food” at our table, like Swanton berries or local organic produce and seafood. The slower the tastier—the more we know about who/how/where the food was caught or grown, the better. I always prefer to look the farmer, fisher or rancher in the eye and talk about the food we share.
At Home: I live amidst redwood trees on the central coast of California in the middle of our newest state park. We “restored” a house using recycled materials, mostly salvaged Douglas fir from an old warehouse. Under this roof with me is my partner Dana, our daughters Grayce and Julia, a big Maine Coon cat named Burle, a Newfoundland Landseer named Fisher and a guinea pig named Monkey. Coyotes, bobcats, owls, hawks, herons, bats, wild pigs and turkeys, deer and the rare mountain lion visit our home. Salmon and steelhead still come up our creek.
Things You Don’t Know About Me: I’ve been into turtles since I was a kid. I think it grew out of my dual obsessions with dinosaurs and the ocean and was fueled by our summers near the Chesapeake Bay where we would catch snapping turtles and paint numbers on their shells. Catching them again helped us estimate how many turtles were in the creeks. When I learned that people studied ocean animals for a living, my fate was sealed. After sea turtles, I’m most fascinated by mountain lions.
Where In The World I Would Most Like To Be: I’ve seen a lot of exciting places. The central coast of California suits me well and I thrive here—I fully dig the climate, people, progressive politics and local organic food. The only other place I often wish I could be is beneath that clear, deep, warm blue ocean 30 miles offshore of Bahia Magdalena. Amazing things happen there.