By Emily Fisher
Photos Heather Garland
In some ways Casey Sokolovic is an average American pre-teen. In her free time she runs cross country, plays volleyball, basketball and soccer, and is a certified scuba diver. But she just happens to have figured out her life’s passion at 12 years old – and she’s already making serious waves.
Casey’s passion for sea turtles began on a third grade field trip to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Island, North Carolina. The non-profit hospital admits sea turtles, mostly loggerheads, that have been found injured. The most common injuries are from boat strikes and fishing gear, such as gillnets.
“Seeing all the hurt sea turtles just struck a passion for me,” she said. Her family has been regularly making the two-hour drive to volunteer with the hospital ever since.
But even with its dedicated staff of volunteers like Casey, the hospital is in need of funding for a new, much bigger facility that is already in the works.
Through her creative fundraising efforts, she has raised more than $3000 for the hospital. With some help from her parents, Casey bakes sea-turtle shaped sugar cookies and sells them at school and local events such as farmers’ markets to benefit the hospital.
In addition to her baking efforts, she has collaborated with North Carolina coffee brewery Joe Van Gogh to create an organic “sea turtle” blend. Her coffee is now carried in Whole Foods stores throughout the Carolinas, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the sea turtle hospital.
Her efforts have culminated in the creation of Love A Sea Turtle (Help Them L.A.S.T.), Casey’s official project to raise money for the hospital, with an accompanying website, http://loveaseaturtle.com.
Casey was a finalist for Oceana’s Ocean Heroes Award in 2009, and in 2008 she was a distinguished finalist for the Gloria Barron Award, which honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to the world.
And most recently, she became the spokesperson for Oceana’s 2009 holiday Adopt-a-Creature program. In her honor, Oceana has developed a special “Casey” adoption package that features a 22-inch plush turtle, along with a sea turtle cookie cutter, adoption certificate, information about sea turtles, sugar cookie recipe and Casey’s story.
Helping sea turtles is not just a passing fad for Casey, who plans on becoming a marine biologist, working
with all kinds of marine animals with a focus on sea turtles. “My favorite kind of sea turtle is the Kemp’s ridley,” she said. “I think they are so cute.”