Karina Bayless - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico
Hi! I'm Karina, and I volunteered on the Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation Project in May 2015. I chose this programme because I am currently a Marine Biology student at the University of South Carolina, and I am passionate about ocean conservation and learning more about these precious creatures that we overlook so easily.
Volunteering on the Conservation Project in Mexico
Arriving at the camp for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Our rooms/huts were on the black sand just 100 feet or so from the waves, and surrounded by palm trees. A few buildings surrounding it were the bathroom, kitchen, equipment shack, turtle nest hatchery and a nice place to relax outside with hammocks and a beautiful view of the beach. The first night I was there, the team had already dug up some turtle nests, so there were 20 + new sea turtle hatchlings to release into the ocean. The staff was extremely welcoming and friendly, and made me feel comfortable and at home right off the bat.
Each week was schedule-based, where we would have the chance to go into town early in the morning to get laundry done, go to the internet cafe, eat at a restaurant, shop and take in the local culture as you walk through the town. After the trip to town we would all eat the lunch that was provided. The food was good, and the fresh fruit was amazing. Normally we would eat fajitas, burritos, etc., with the choice of rice, beans, and meat, and varying sides (fruit, tortillas, guacamole, lettuce, etc.). Normally before the trip to town, camp duties were required to be completed prior to leaving the camp. These required basic clean-up of the various facilities in the camp.
After lunch, we would have a different task to do every day. These vary from going to the crocodile farm, digging the turtle nests and releasing turtles, watering the mangroves, planting the new mangroves, going into the lagoon to bird watch and record biodiversity data and picking new mangrove seeds on the lagoon.
Night patrol was another weekly scheduled duty, where each volunteer got to participate in patrolling the beaches on a 4-wheeler, and looking out for pregnant turtles that would possibly be laying eggs in order to ensure safety for both the turtle and the eggs. Night patrol was amazing, the stars are beautiful and so bright, in fact in one night I counted 7 shooting stars. (It was also a nice break from the daily heat we were used to working in). Also, for many nights we got the chance to have a campfire on the beach, with the option of roasting marshmallows. It was hilarious to see a few of the volunteers and staff try “s’mores” for the first time!
Travelling around Mexico on Weekends
Weekends we had off, so volunteers had the opportunity to explore Mexico. Me and another volunteer took advantage of this each weekend and travelled 2-4 hours to Melaque, then Manzanillo. These beaches are very popular and there is a lot to do around each town (tubing, scuba/snorkelling, shopping, exploring night life, etc.)
In our spare time around camp, we could walk 5 or so minutes to the lagoon, straight down the road. Here we would either swim, play with the local puppies that were around daily and hang out at the local mini restaurant/bar.
Overall, my favourite part of the experience was getting hands-on experience with the newly hatched turtles, and watching them venture out to their new home. I loved comparing the two species of sea turtles, and observing their different characteristics/largely apparent size difference. It was amazing how quickly they could self-manage after hatching from their eggs. They gain mobility quickly, and once fully mobile, it is safe to release them into the ocean (to reduce risk of predation by the many crabs on the beach).
This experience was priceless, and I miss it so much already. I learnt so much from the Projects Abroad staff, towns-people and other volunteers from various countries. If you have the chance to pick any programme, I would say this is the one to pick. Living on the beach is already a deal-breaker, but saving turtles and helping conserve the surrounding environment is a plus!