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Charlotte Forsdick - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico

Looking back now I couldn't explain why I chose to go to Mexico and do the conservation project. I guess I just thought it would be fun, and I was right.

Feeding the turtles

As soon as you step out of the airport you just know you're in a different country. The atmosphere is different, the buildings, the people, the plants are all unlike what we are used to. Even the colours and smells are different, more alive, and more vibrant. It scared me quite a lot when I looked up and realised the stars where different and the moon the wrong way around.

After spending a night in the office I was given a tour of Guadalajara. At first I thought this was a pointless exercise as I would be spending little or no time there. However it gave me a chance to look around the city, its museums and art galleries and a chance to appreciate some of the history and culture of this amazing country. I spent the following night with a host family, a slightly daunting experience as I hadn't expected this and didn't speak a word of Spanish. Somehow though I managed to get by, by talking to my host brother using a lot of gestures and guess work. Luckily kids' cartons rely a lot on visual humour so we had a great time watching "Sponge Bob Square Pants" and "Scooby Doo".

Fellow volunteers

The next day I was collected from the house by the manager of the camp, and together we made the journey to the camp. The camp is, quite frankly, amazing. On the journey there we drove through a banana plantation and past fields of palm trees stretching, literally, as far as the eye could see. From then on I was hooked on the place. Every night there were the most incredible sun sets turning the sky all shades of red and yellow. The sound of the waves was hypnotic. You could hear it as you were falling asleep at night, almost as though they were right outside the door.

During my first few days there I hurt my leg and the Teaching & Project Abroad guys were incredibly helpful and supportive, taking me into Tecoman to see a doctor, collecting medicine for me, doing whatever they could to help. I was ordered to keep my feet up for a few days. What better place to be an invalid, I spent all day lying in a hammock reading!

Olive ridley laying eggs

Within a couple of days I felt really settled there. The manager and assistant manager soon felt like good friends rather than just the guys in charge, and although there was a huge language barrier between myself and the semarnat guys they were always there to help out. We managed to communicate through miming and the odd words we knew. Tortuga (turtle) huevos (eggs) and agua (water) were some of the more useful ones.

Jobs and chores never really felt like work because you knew you were contributing, and every job, no matter how small was helping the camp to work.

Releasing hatchlings

Bike patrol was everyone's favourite job by far. Every night the beach has to be patrolled to look for turtle nests, which are then dug up and buried again back at camp where they are safe from poachers and predators, pigs and racoons both of which dig up the nests and eat the eggs. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a racoon on more than one occasion and they are incredibly cute.

You go out at night on a quad bike and look for turtle tracks, and if you're lucky you might actually get to see the turtle lay eggs. The beach is incredibly peaceful and stunning at night. You really got to appreciate the power of nature out there, seeing the waves and the times when the wind would pick up and try and blow our tents away. I went out on one bike patrol when there was a thunder storm out to sea and sheets of lighting would flash every few minutes and light up the entire sky, it was incredible.

Sunset at the camp

The baby turtles are terribly cute and surprisingly strong. It's an incredibly sight to see them struggling out of the sand. Sometimes they would come out at night and get confused by the lights. You would come out side to find them scurrying around all over the place. When that happened you'd end up wandering around with your torch light to guide you, trying to round them up. In the morning you could see their tiny tracks all over camp. We'd release them at dusk when it was safest. They were so funny scrabbling over each other trying to reach the sea, often getting washed back up the beach again when a wave hit them. These tiny little creatures have a lot of obstacles to over come before they're even a few hours old which makes our work there so important and so rewarding.

It wasn't all work though. About ten minutes walk away is the lagoon with a ramshackle sort of bar where you can go to relax and get a drink, this soon became a daily group activity. You could go into town during the week and there were often things planned for the weekend, a visit to bat caves, a day trip to Colima or a weekend spent further up the beach in Cuyutlan.

By the time I left the camp was buzzing, there were around 20 volunteers and every day more turtles were coming up to lay, making more work for us all. I was incredibly sad to leave and regretted that I didn't take the time to travel. If I were to do it again I would definitely book that into my trip. I made so many good friends and had such a great time, I would do it all again in a heart beat.

Charlotte Forsdick

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