Nick: So in terms of conservation, in terms of Indigo. Three years ago, you are walking along this beautiful volcanic ash beach on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, you come across el Banco, how did that whole el Banco thing start for you guys? Because you’ve now developed it and if the listeners haven’t checked out this new building you’ve created, this mansion, it’s incredible. This shrine to turtles. How on earth have you gone from three years and when I visited el Banco it was very much not a ‘shrine to turtles’. It was, you had just started taking over it, and just started working on it. How did that whole relationship and story happen?
Rowland: When I first came to Guatemala in 2012 I found another research station up in the north of the country which I’ve been working at every year since, called Estacion Biologica Las Guacamayas. And I became very good friends with the people who are involved there, and who run a Guatemalan NGO called Fundaselva. And so that’s one part, we’ll just put that on the shelf for a second. They have a house down on the beach in the community of el Banco, and when I said to them ‘do you know what, I’d really like to see sea turtles. I’d never seen sea turtles before’. It would be really cool. This is back in 2014. They said come down and spend the weekend with us because we are involved with a sea turtle hatchery – the tortugario el Banco. And so I went down, and I saw this incredible spectacle of hundreds of these little turtles making their frantic way down into the Pacific coast and as you know Nick the surf on that beach is just …
R: Quite incredible, it’s brutal yeh.
N: You feel like you are entering a boxing ring when you go for a swim.
R: And just to see that and witness that, what it brought back to me was being a kid and collecting frog spawn, and watching it hatch and then watching the tadpoles metamorph into frogs. It had that same kind of feeling and I became really passionate about it.
So Indigo Expeditions is about bringing people from all over the world to Guatemala and sharing Guatemala’s amazing biodiversity, particularly with reptiles and amphibians. Training people how to survey for reptiles and amphibians, and getting them involved in much needed conservation work in this country.
And so this idea came to me that actually we could bring groups down to the Pacific coast and we could do conservation work to help the tortugario el Banco which is a community run project that’s doing fantastic work as we have discussed. It’s being doing it for 25 years on it’s own with very little support, and there are many questions from a conservation point of view and an ecology point of view that have not been addressed on that beach. I figured what an amazing way for us to support these conservation efforts.
So what happened in the time between 2014 and meeting you, is the house that was next door to the tortugario on the beach which was a very dilapidated thatched house that was falling down, it was in very poor condition, came up for sale. So Fundaselva bought the property and renovated the house into what you start to see now, which is the Estacion biologica el Banco, where Indigo Expeditions will hold it’s sea turtle initiative. So we’ll be able to take volunteers to this incredible building that’s right on the coast there, and not only help the guys at tortugario el Banco, but also start the conservation efforts and the research efforts looking at the adult populations.
N: So if volunteers go along, what would their average day look like?
R: It will be very changeable depending on the season. So in peak season you could have many turtles coming up onto the beach, there’ll be a lot of night work when most of the turtles come up to lay their eggs, it’s darker and there’s less predators and everything else, under normal circumstances. So we will be out on the beach, we’ll be walking on the beach, looking for turtles and be in contact with the guys who are out collecting eggs.
What we will hopefully be doing is when we go with them, with the turtles we will be able to measure them and get their sizes, look at what characteristics of the beach they are interested in, because they don’t all nest in the same place. They nest along a great long stretch of beach. It will be interesting to see what parts of the beach they are using, and why they are using them. That could help us encourage more turtles to come up.
Ideally and ultimately we would want to put identification marks on those turtles so we can see how frequently they are coming back and where they are coming back to on those beaches. And that will be the start of efforts to work out what kind of size the adult population is.
In addition to that we will be helping the tortugario, looking after the eggs that they have, and releasing the turtles which obviously is an incredible thing to do.
N: For those people who’ve never seen this sight Rowland touched upon earlier, like I remember heading down to the beach and it really wasn’t on my list of things to do, it hadn’t come across as anything I wanted to do, but someone said I should look and do some research down there considering what we were trying to do with Impact Marathon. So I popped down and that first time when you snd the turtles off and you say god speed to them and away they go, it’s actually a very emotional moment because you are really seeing nature in quite a raw form and you are seeing this knowing the figures you gave earlier about one percent, knowing that these guys they are living and breathing and they are amazing creations that have been around since before humans, am I right in saying?
R: Yes hundreds of millions of years
N: They really are like a pretty resilient species and just seeing them head off, and seeing nature just start to work, and then seeing the one turtle that gets distracted by the moon and goes running off in the wrong direction rather than heading down to the sea. There’s something about it and I’m getting goosebumps now just remembering how it feels. Or just walking along the beach doing patrols looking for turtles that are coming to lay, and the excitement you have just there hoping that you might actually get to sea a turtle come up and that whole experience.
I’m sure if people are listening to this podcast they probably are the kind of people who would be excited by that, and if you’re like sitting there and you’re not, well you’re just gotta do it because you will be! But its a very emotional thing to see and it’s a very strange thing, it hits you and you don’t expect it to I think.
R: I agree. For me I grew up with reptiles, but turtles were never really my thing, especially sea turtles we never really my thing. It wasn’t until I experienced it in myself and like you say felt it, felt that experience that things started turning and this is incredible. This is an incredible thing to be involved in, and like you say the patrols and finding your first turtle out on the beach, and we should say, these things are huge. Olive ridleys are the smallest of the sea turtles but they are still nearly a metre carapace length. You know 60, 70 centimetres. They are huge great bit almost monolithic creatures, it’s very primordial watching them come out of the surf. And then when you start talking about leatherbacks, the leatherback population on the coast of Guatemala, they’re two, two and a half metres long. They are absolutely ginormous beasts. And wonderful and to be a part of that to help them and to be close to these animals for me is a really special experience.
End Part 2.