Award winner 2024
Location: Panama

Callie Annette Veelenturf

Callie Annette Veelenturf is a passionate conservationist who has dedicated her life to protecting the leatherback sea turtles in the East Pacific. She empowers fishers to safeguard the sea turtles’ coastal and oceanic habitat.


Callie fully committed to the preservation of leatherback sea turtles when she became aware of the threats these creatures are facing and the risk of extinction for regional subpopulations. These remarkable turtles share their habitat with fishers and unsustainable fishing practices in the area result in many bycaught turtles. Combined with other threats like plastic pollution, climate change, and habitat degradation, leatherback sea turtles are facing a challenging struggle for survival. That is why Callie established The Leatherback Project in 2019 to protect this species and the habitats that they occupy.

Through scientific research, community empowerment, and advocacy Callie aims to protect the sea turtles and their habitat. She uses the leatherback sea turtle and other sea turtles as ambassadors to safeguard their marine ecosystems and all marine and coastal wildlife that lives in the region. Over the years, Callie conducted important scientific research on sea turtle ecology and identified over 20 new-to-science nesting beaches and foraging grounds in the East Pacific. She trained over 2,000 Army and Navy soldiers to improve the implementation and enforcement of environmental protection laws. In addition, together with local fishers and local governing agencies, Callie tests and implements bycatch reduction technologies. In Panama her hard work has led to a new national law that recognises the Rights of Nature, the inclusion of the specific rights of sea turtles in another national law, and a new National Wildlife Refuge that is currently under consideration.

The pressure is real when it comes to conservation, and Callie is all too aware of this. While parts of society seem to be indifferent to protecting our planet’s biodiversity, she consistently communicates the pressing need for action to those she engages with. Through her multi-level approach, from policy to practice, Callie is mitigating the human impact on the leatherback sea turtle and other endangered wildlife.

Vision and approach

While people are often the cause of environmental threats, Callie believes people are also the solution. In Callie’s eyes, fishers are conservation pioneers, and she collaborates with them to implement effective bycatch reduction solutions. Additionally, Callie uses scientific research as a catalyst to improve environmental laws and induce the establishment of new conservation areas. Using a holistic method, Callie aims to bridge the gap between fisheries, conservation organisations, and governing agencies, and also work together to protect marine biodiversity.


Impact of the Future For Nature Award

With the FFN Award prize money Callie will:

  • Launch a fisheries network throughout the 240 Pearl Islands Archipelago and train them to use safe release tactics for bycatches of sea turtles.
  • Implement conservation measures together with local communities and authorities in the newly established Special Management Zone off the coast of Panama.
  • Map leatherback sea turtle foraging grounds to better understand how to decrease fisheries interaction.
Very impressive that she managed to introduce the new law which recognises the Right of Nature, which was signed by the President of Panama and became a law.
Dr. Masha Vorontsova