Turning Our Attention to the Turtles
Ask Eric Goode what the most important global issue of our day is and he’ll argue it is the plight of the turtles.
“Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but this is about putting some energy into biodiversity,” explained Mr. Goode at the Turtle Ball, a benefit for the Turtle Conservancy, which he founded, held at the Bowery Hotel, which he co-owns. “Everyone cares about rhinos and whales and elephants and apes because they breast-feed and they are like us. Turtles have been slipped under the rug.”
Mr. Goode became a turtle lover at 6 years old, when his mother, a conservationist, gave him a Greek tortoise named Ajax. It wasn’t until he was older that he became aware of the dangers facing his favorite creature. Habitat loss and illegal trade have now made some turtle species among the world’s most threatened.
Mr. Goode’s holdings include the Jane and Maritime hotels as well as a stake in the Waverly Inn (he was also the owner of famed nightclub Area). But his hospitality empire also includes the Behler Chelonian Center, a 5-acre habitat he owns and runs in Ojai, Calif. The center is dedicated to caring for and breeding the most vulnerable turtle varieties.
Many of Mr. Goode’s friends were equally enthusiastic about turtles, speaking effusively about them while viewing an impressively curated art auction during the evening’s cocktail hour.
“The Hudson River is one of the two megadiversity regions for turtles on Earth,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the evening’s honoree, who runs the Hudson River preservation nonprofit Riverkeeper. “The only watershed that has more turtle species than the Hudson is the Mekong River in Cambodia. We have 13 species of turtles in the Hudson. Do you want me to tell you what they are?” he asked, before rattling off a rapid fire list.
Mr. Kennedy brought a leopard tortoise home from Kenya on a diplomatic passport when he was 10. The reptile died 21 years later and is now preserved for display in his home, to the delight of his wife Cheryl Hines.
Before the Turtle Ball, Ted Danson attended a session on sustainable oceans at the Clinton Global Initiative. He serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit Oceana.
Turtles have “been around longer than the dinosaurs,” said Mr. Danson, a neighbor of Mr. Goode’s and who has visited the Ojai preserve. He has worked with Oceana to create turtle exclusion devices for fishing nets that will allow them to escape.
At dinner, guests like Patti Smith, Richard Branson and Leonardo DiCaprio settled in for a dinner of baby arugula salad, pasta alla norma and sustainably harvested wild Alaska sockeye salmon. Brightly colored turtle figurines adorned the tables. Mr. DiCaprio was so amused by the critters that he pocketed one toward the end of the evening.
Artworks from Tom Sachs and Peter Beard, the opportunity to name a newly discovered tortoise species and a week’s stay on Mr. Branson’s private island, were all included in an intensely spirited live auction led by Liev Schreiber.
An art-lover, Mr. Schreiber employed some stealthy strategy while bidding in the silent portion of the auction.
“I’m coveting this Walton Ford picture, but I know some very heavy people are also coveting it so I will never see it in my home,” the star of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” admitted. “There’s a couple of other things in here that I’m telling people are awful, that I’ve bid on secretly.”
He and Naomi Watts are also friends of Mr. Goode and the couple was delighted by the interest their children had taken in the cause.
“Sasha just really clicked and he’s obsessed with tortoises,” Mr. Schreiber said of his eldest, who visited the Behler center and now has a South American red-footed tortoise named Max. “While it feels kind of unique and niche-y, it’s actually, I think, the tip of a much more impactful subject. I think sometimes it takes localized ideas like this for people to truly understand.”