Volunteering with WILDCOAST: How I Helped the Sea Turtles
A few years back I had the opportunity to go down to Huatulco, Mexico with some colleagues and volunteer with WILDCOAST – an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. Eagle Creek has long supported voluntourism within our company culture, but this was the first time I got to take advantage of the program. And I’m so glad I did. It was the very best part of my 2017.
Since 2000, WILDCOAST has dedicated themselves to protecting globally significant coastal ecosystems in California, Mexico and Cuba. I chose this project because, plain and simple, I wanted to save the sea turtles!! A big part of protection is education, so working with the local community to teach them about the importance of sea turtles was part of my quest.
So let me set the scene: We were down in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, in a town called Huatulco which is a pretty teeny (and lovely) town. Huatulco features a national park, spanning over 29,000 acres with nine bays and 36 beaches. After flying from Tijuana to Huatulco (hint: flying out of TJ is a breeze when you use the bridge), we met up with our team to prep for a jam-packed week.
Our team was made up of folks from WILDCOAST’s San Diego, Huatulco, and Ensenada offices.
Their Oaxaca program consists of monitoring and conserving coral reef ecosystems and sea turtle nesting beaches. On day one we jumped in a boat and motored on out to a couple of Huatulco National Park’s bays, and did some work monitoring the buoy system that WILDCOAST helped implement the year prior. The buoy system is part of a pilot program, so monthly data collection and monitoring is required and the data they collect will affect future work.
My biggest education during this entire experience was seeing how WILDCOAST’s work relies so heavily on educating the local community. Because without community support, these systems wouldn’t have stayed in place. Sure, WILDCOAST has done an amazing job in setting up the buoy system, but for the greatest results it was absolutely vital that they spread the word to all of the local and touring boaters. They achieved this by teaching local tour operators how to properly utilize the system with the intentions of protecting coral reefs.
It was on this boat journey that we saw our first sea turtle swimming by. We stopped the motor to check her out, and she seemed to stop and check us out in return. It was so cool, and so rewarding!
After another few days and projects specifically aimed at educating local children about their coast and ocean, including an interactive experience involving them in a Town Center mural painting, we were finally on our way to Morro Ayuta; the world’s most important nesting beach for Olive Ridley sea turtles. About a two hour drive south of Huatulco, Morro Ayuta is a 15km stretch of undeveloped beach, where WILDCOAST volunteers camp out nightly to monitor sea turtle activity and promote healthy environments.
There they performed a training seminar at a large palapa, where local villagers brought their children to participate. I don’t speak Spanish, but the enthusiasm of the kids was undeniable. They learned about the different sea turtle species and the threats to turtles, including their own inherited tradition of eating turtle meat and eggs (which, in effect, perpetuates poaching). The big idea here being - you can slowly shift traditions by reaching children’s hearts at an impressionable age.
While we missed the arribada (the massive return of mama sea turtles to the beach to lay their eggs) by just one week, we were still able to facilitate a hatchling release with the local children. This was the ultimate highlight! We handed each child a baby turtle as they wiggled their feet like energizer bunnies. All at once, the children released their turtles, and we all watched them race to the ocean – following their innate instinct
Statistics say that very few baby turtles have much chance of survival… in fact, it’s almost as low as 1 in 1,000. This is why it is so important that we do what we can (yay education!) to deter poaching and to work with kids and families to help them to understand how sea turtles are not only beautiful and majestic creatures, but also by protecting them they will continue to come back to their same beaches. In turn, those beaches will continue to be protected.
The experience is now engrained in me forever! The overall results of WILDCOAST’s work resulted in an impressive 1.5 million turtles returning to lay eggs this past year, which was an incredible 50% increase over last year.
I will always support keeping marine life safe, and our oceans clean. I stopped using plastic grocery bags several years ago, but now I’ve stopped using disposable straws. We all play a part, and this is just another opportunity to help. You can always check-out their annual donation and volunteering opportunities at http://www.wildcoast.net/take-action
Our sea-life says thanks in advance. ;-)