Our Mission

Upwell's mission is to protect endangered sea turtles by reducing threats at sea, including fisheries, ship strikes, pollution, climate change and other detrimental human activities.

Nearly all sea turtle species worldwide are threatened or endangered. Conservationists have successfully protected many nesting beaches, but fewer females return to nest when populations decline due to high mortality at sea. Upwell mobilizes key constituencies and applies new technologies to improve protections for sea turtles where they spend most of their lives: in the ocean.


Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop


Upwell's Founding Story

We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded by Dr. George Shillinger and Dr. Kristin Reed. George brings decades of experience in marine research and conservation, with a specific emphasis on the movement ecology of leatherback turtles and other highly migratory species, derived from electronic tagging studies and remotely sensed environmental datasets. As a socio-ecologist, Kristin brings complementary experience working with fishing communities around the world on resource rights and environmental change.

George and Kristin began working together with the founders of Las Baulas National Park to protect the last mass nesting beach for leatherbacks on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. However, despite the extraordinary efforts of community members, park officials and scientists working to support Las Baulas National Park, the numbers of East Pacific leatherbacks returning to nest at the Park continue to decrease. (Whereas researchers recorded 1504 leatherbacks nesting in Las Baulas National Park during the 1988-1989 season, they recorded only 22 in the 2015-2016 nesting season.) Researchers working on nesting beaches around the world report similar declines among hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and other sea turtle species.

Protecting nesting beaches is not enough when endangered turtle populations face deadly threats at sea.

George saw an opportunity to use his expertise in tagging and tracking sea turtles at sea to arrest the decline in East Pacific leatherbacks and other critically endangered populations of sea turtles. He knew that with enough data (including where sea turtles go at different life history stages and how oceanographic conditions like sea surface temperatures correlate with food availability) scientific models could predict the abundance and distribution of turtles at sea. Kristin found fishermen wanted to reduce bycatch and knew that scientists could learn much more about turtle movements from people spending most of their time on the water.

George and Kristin saw an opportunity to transform sea turtle conservation by engaging new constituencies in data collection and improving access to predictive and real-time data on turtle movements. They founded Upwell as a collaborative organization committed to generating and mobilizing scientific data to protect endangered turtles at sea.