Last December, after a hard-fought campaign against 29 other non-profit organizations, ICAPO (Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative) won Sungevity Gives Back and walked away from the contest with an extra $20,000 and a mission to Generate Positive. Here’s what happened next.

First, some background. ICAPO is a grassroots organization comprised of 50+ individuals and organizations that work together toward a single purpose: to protect the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle from going extinct in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

What makes the hawksbill interesting? At first glance, they seem like your typical sea turtle: large maritime reptiles with big flippers that help them glide through the water. Compared to other sea turtles, hawksbill are medium-sized and have a hook-like beak. They live in warm tropical waters across the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

However, what makes hawksbills particularly unusual is that they are stunningly beautiful. Their uniquely patterned shell contains splashes of ambers and yellows, with radiating streaks of light and dark brown. Their shell is so iconic that they are depicted on Venezuelan and Brazilian banknotes. The town of Worcester, Massachusetts even has a statue depicting a boy riding a hawksbill that’s lovingly called “Turtle Boy.”

But being beautiful has come at a cost for the hawksbill. Historically they have been exhaustively hunted for their shells, which is then traded on the black market. The demand for products made from their shells was so high that the global population of hawksbills has decreased by over 80% over the past three generations. By some estimates, there are fewer than 20,000 nesting females remaining in the wild.

That’s where ICAPO comes in. ICAPO launched in 2008 to protect the subpopulation of hawksbill turtles that lives in the eastern Pacific Ocean. ICAPO works with local communities from Mexico to Peru to find sustainable solutions that help both the turtles and the local fishermen thrive.

So how did ICAPO Generate Positive with $20,000?

They set out to address one of the biggest threats facing the eastern Pacific hawksbill population: lobster gillnets. When local fishermen set nets to capture lobster, hawksbill can get caught in the gillnets and drown. Over the past year, ICAPO has been able to expand their educational programs to raise awareness in local communities about the danger gillnets pose to hawksbill turtles. They worked hand-in-hand with lobster fishermen to collect data on how and where hawksbill are most likely to get caught in gillnets, and are now using that data to develop a marine protected area in one of the primary hawksbill hotspots. They also began testing alternatives to gillnets such as lobster traps. One year later, they are close to finding an alternative fishing method that prevents hawksbill bycatch, while also allowing local lobster fishermen to make a living.

Now that’s what a brighter world looks like.

Learn more about this and ICAPO’s other inspiring work by visiting their website at www.hawksbill.org. Sungevity Gives Back is an annual contest that invites non-profits to compete to win $20,000 to support their important work. To apply to the contest, organizations can submit a statement explaining how they will Generate Positive with $20,000. Enrollment ends November 10th. Click here to apply.

Posted by Leslye Penticoff

Leslye is the Content and Community Manager for Sungevity. She's also an avid coffee drinker and rock climber, and serves on the Board of Directors at Margination, a nonprofit in Troy, NY.