Sea turtles swam with dinosaurs. The largest were more than twice the size of the six foot leatherbacks who take people’s breath away today. For 100 million years, turtles have roamed this blue planet. We young humans still know precious little about them.

We do know there are seven species of sea turtles still on Earth today. And they’re all endangered.

Pandemic Conditions Might Be a Boom for Sea Turtles

But conservationists at the Sea Turtle Conservancy say pandemic conditions may be boosting turtle populations. Less trash on the beaches, fewer boats in the water, and even a lack of lawn chairs to deter loggerhead mothers-to-be means more turtle eggs buried in the sand. Only about one out of 1,000 hatchlings survive, so the more nests a turtle can make, the better. Sea Turtle Conservancy stewards beaches all along the Atlantic and gulf coasts.

“The Sea Turtle Conservancy has set the gold standard for sea turtle conservation over the last 60 years,” says Daniel Gunter, co-founder of jewelry company Wildlife Collections. Wildlife Collections partners with the Sea Turtle Conservancy for their line of turtle bracelets, which come with a special profile on an ‘adopted’ turtle and access to a site where you can digitally track your turtle’s migrations. Part of the proceeds from each bracelet go to support Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work.

“The geographical expanse of their operation is just vast,” Gunter continues. Though based in Florida, the Sea Turtle Conservancy works on the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica to help protect turtle nests, keep beaches clean, and rescue ailing turtles.

Gunter says supporting wildlife has always been the central goal of Wildlife Collections, which he co-founded with his schoolyard best friend Carter Forbes in 2018.

How Two Friends Found Their Mission

But the two friends haven’t limited the scope of their vision to just turtles. They have jewelry supporting Save the Elephants, which works within central Kenya and across 40 other countries to research and monitor elephant populations, and to curb ivory poaching with help from the UN. They also work with Polar Bears International, the world’s only conservation organization dedicated entirely to polar bears. Wildlife Collections’ Elephant and Polar Bear jewelry also comes with an animal to track.

The duo didn’t set out to save the world. They’d both just graduated from college (Gunter studied civil engineering at UNC Charlotte, and Forbes studied business administration and finance at UNC Wilmington), and they wanted to put together a little side hustle. Both shared a common affinity for the ocean, so they found their mission. Fast forward a couple years, and that side hustle has expanded into their full time gig. “We were able to donate over $360k to wildlife organizations last year, so people are definitely responding,” Forbes beams.

Animals Bring Hope, Smiles, and Unite Us

Forbes says they consider it a great success, the benefits of which extend far beyond themselves. “We love animals. And I don’t just mean myself and Daniel,” he says. “People love animals. We all want sea turtles to do well. We all want to see polar bears thriving. Everybody smiles when they see a baby elephant. This is universal, it brings us together.”

Making people smile, Forbes says, is as central to their company’s mission as conservation is.

“We know we’re not going to be able to save every animal with jewelry, but we need to start somewhere. And we can give people hope,” says Gunter. He says the animal tracking software has been especially popular with customers, because it gives them a real-time connection to one of the lives that they’re saving. “This is a time when people need hope. It’s a good time to get involved with wildlife conservation.”

Nesting season for leatherback turtles in southern Florida will soon begin in March, and then throughout the gulf coast in May. Last year scientists found turtle nests on the beaches as late as December, later in the year than they’ve ever recorded. While we’re stuck inside, we can remember that there’s hope for our animal relatives out there.