It is with a heavy heart that STC shares the news that longtime sea turtle conservationist Larry Ogren has passed away. Larry Ogren studied biology at the University of Florida under Archie Carr in the 1950s. He was one of Archie’s first graduate research assistants and accompanied Archie on some of his earliest trips to Tortuguero. In fact, when Archie set up the sea turtle tagging program in Tortuguero, it was Larry who stayed behind, in the field, to run the program when Archie returned to Florida. This field work led to some of the earliest and most important published papers on sea turtle ecology and migrations, which Larry co-authored with Dr. Carr.
In 1956, the first year of sea turtle tagging, Dr. Carr accompanied Larry to Tortuguero, where he left him alone to carry out the work. There was no research station and nothing but an open air hut to sleep in. As Archie left Larry on the beach that year, he left him with these parting words (as told by Larry), “Now you know it’s hot as hell down here; you’ll get sand in your britches walking the beach, and you’ll get bored to death. If you do, just go into town and have a beer. Take a break, because it’s going to be a long, wet summer. See you in a few months.”
And with that encouraging send-off, Larry’s adventures in Tortuguero began. And for anyone who has ever spoken with Larry about those years, there was plenty of adventure, like the time he was flying over the Yucatan in Mexico on a Navy plane as part of Operation Green Turtle, which was an attempt coordinated by Sea Turtle Conservancy (known then as Caribbean Conservation Corporation) in partnership with the Navy to start new green turtle nesting colonies by releasing hatchlings at beaches around the Caribbean. They were flying at night in a horrible storm and quickly running out of gas. The weather was socked in and they couldn’t find the airport. The pilot thought they were going to crash until he spotted headlights on a road below, which could be either coming from or going to the airport. He made a 50-50 guess that happened to be right; they found the runway just before having to ditch the plane.
After completing numerous seasons in the field with CCC, Larry went on to a very successful career with the National Marine Fisheries Service, where he played a prominent role in stimulating global interest in sea turtle conservation. His efforts led to the funding of the first systematic study of sea turtles in the Atlantic, the results from which were presented at the Western Atlantic Turtle Symposium, which Larry organized. That symposium was the first international conference focused on sea turtles that involved elected officials and natural resource managers from around the Atlantic and Caribbean. The symposium helped stimulate turtle protection regulations in countries around the region that previously had no laws protecting sea turtles. Also through his work with Fisheries Service, Larry helped push through the first regulations requiring the use of Turtle Excluder Devices on shrimp trawls in the U.S., regulations that undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of sea turtles. Larry served for many years as a member of CCC’s Board of Directors and continued to guide the organization as a member of STC’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
Like Dr. Carr before him, Larry Ogren was a lifelong champion of sea turtle conservation. A few years back, STC established an award to honor individuals, who, like Archie Carr, had dedicated a substantial part of their lives to the cause of sea turtle research and protection. Larry Ogren is one of just four people to be awarded the “Archie Carr Lifetime Achievement Award,” which he was presented in New York in 2009 as STC celebrated its 50th anniversary.
In 2013, Larry worked with writer Anne Ake to publish the book “Turning Turtles in Tortuguero: Stories from the Origins of Sea Turtle Conservation,” a wonderful and humorous look back at Larry’s experiences working with STC and Archie Carr in the earliest days of sea turtle conservation – work that helped inspire the global movement to protect sea turtles.
Larry was a trailblazer, a one-of-a-kind naturalist, conservationist and human being. He was a friend to many in the sea turtle conservation community and he will be missed dearly.