(Note: We are posting updates from Josh Baugh, a student at DePauw University who is interning with FUNZEL, one of El Salvador's leading conservation groups. SEE Turtles has helped fund Josh's work. This is an edited post, for the full story, visit Josh's blog.)
Nearly all that I have been doing and writing about in my time here in San Diego is in some way related to turtle research and conservation. Much of my writing although political in nature remains rooted in what I have experienced working and living at a turtle hatchery. Admittedly, I have seen and experienced much outside of the hatchery as well through helping Antonio with his work with CEPRODE, a nationwide internationally funded organization designed to help protect communities against natural disasters. As president of the local CEPRODE, Antonio is always going to the river, which with each rain threatens the rural community, and working throughout the community. I have found that hopping on the rusty bike I've been loaned and tagging along with him is a great way of building trust and getting to know the community. Through this means I have learned about a lot of the problems in the community and those shared throughout the country that are reducing the success of the USAID turtle project. All of this time spent with him and out in the community has been invaluable and in my mind equally important to the turtle work I have been doing.
Currently, I am working on three projects in addition to assisting Nefta and Antonio at the hatchery during the night. These are monitoring the temperature and humidity of the hatchery, taking GPS points at all the 2009 turtle nesting locations in Playa San Diego and taking GPS points of all light sources along the beach, as well as a measurement of their relative light intensity. The first regarding the hatchery is for Funzel/USAID and is designed to help assist them with better hatchery management. Temperature and humidity are both very important to monitor as in Olive Ridleys and all species of turtles, sex is determined by temperature. In the Olive Ridely species I am working with an incubation temperature above 30.5˚C produces all females and below all males. Measuring humidity by means of precipitation is important for hatchery management as well because rain is the primary natural means of reducing incubation temperature. Without monitoring temperature and humidity it is likely that a hatchery will produce all males or females, thereby disrupting the sex ratio in wild sea turtle populations.
The second and third projects I mentioned involving the GPS are being done to assist Rodrigo Samayoa, current Vice President of Funzel, on a scientific paper proposing proper beach management for sea turtles. My research is providing him with data regarding the effect of beach lighting on nesting populations. Currently there is debate as to whether or not lighting negatively affects the Olive Ridley species. In other species of sea turtle it has been proven that direct lights along the beach confuse the turtles to the point that they are disoriented and unable to locate nesting grounds and have difficulty returning to the sea.
On daily basis I am monitoring the temperature and rain gage by taking readings 4 times a day. I take one at 6am, 12pm, 6pm and 12am. Additionally, during the night when the conditions are right Nefta and I walk the beach to look for nesting females during the night. The rest of the night we are resting in our hammocks waiting for the tortugueros to bring eggs to us. You can say that we let them do the work for us in this regard but it is a way of livelihood for many of them that have been doing it for years. After they bring the eggs in we count them and then Antonio calculates how much money they will receive using a chart from USAID. Currently we are paying $3 per 14 eggs brought in. Right then Antonio will give them a receipt that they can bring in during the next time that USAID comes to pay. They come on a weekly basis.
I have posted some pictures to further describe my work. But another thing I should mention is that I had the opportunity to go out to sea with some fisherman to see the turtles mating. We were lucky enough to have them come right next to the boat so I got some good shots of the whole deal. I also took some videos which I unfortunately unable to post but in the process of taking those I made myself seasick. Lets just say that by the end of those 3 hours at sea I was throwing up off the side of the boat. Another cool thing I have been able to do is work with the tortugueros and extract eggs to bring to the hatchery. With the olive ridley season picking up now as well we have started giving tours to tourist in which they can come walk the beach learn about turtles and then help release hatchlings. These tours are being run through a hostel that is being built and a supporting committee. This is all still being formed and could be a great place for future volunteers interested in turtles to come stay. I have been offered a spot on the committee, which would give me partial ownership. I am currently debating this option.