Dier- en natuurbehoud project zeeschildpadden & kustgebied in Mexico
Conservation in Mexico - Monthly Update - September - October 2014
This high season has turned 2014 into a record breaking year with regards to the amount of nests that the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) have laid. We are only half way through October and have already collected over 2,700 nests since June. This is well over the total that we collected over the course of last year, and August was jam-packed with nest collecting and burying. At the end of the month, we had collected 1,275 nests in total, which amounts to 118,266 eggs collected in just 31 days!
By September, things were starting to quieten down but we still collected 885 nests and averaged 30 nests per night. This has kept us nice and busy throughout the night and early into the next morning - all our volunteers have been fantastic about keeping very strange sleep patterns due to all the work we do after dark.
Our current challenge is trying to keep up with the constant stream of hatchlings as we’ve been releasing about a thousand per night. We’re definitely not complaining though! The next job on our agenda is to gear up for the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) season that is due to start in November. There’s not long to go until we have the chance to see those majestic creatures once again.
Lagoon bird biodiversity study
With the incredible amount of work that we have been doing with the turtles over the last two months, we have been able to use the bird surveys on our local lagoon as a well-deserved opportunity for some peace and quiet. The lagoon is one of the most serene places that I have managed to find so far on this planet. With only one motor boat allowed on the lagoon, and even that rarely goes out, we find that the lagoon is filled with the natural sounds of nature; with birds and frogs leading the chorus. It really is one of the best places to go and relax.
Our surveys are based in 11 different areas around the lagoon and we spend 20 minutes at each area. With the wet season in full swing, we have an excess of fresh water, which makes the whole area very green and beautiful. However, it also makes the lily pads and weeds grow excessively so we have been unable to visit three of our usual spots over the last couple of months.
Some of the migrating birds are returning, including the American kestrel (Falco sparverius) and the grey hawk (Buteo plagiatus). Huge numbers of resident species, such as the northern jacana (Jacana spinosa) and the purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica), can also be spotted.
Crocodile repopulation project
The crocodile project is coming along nicely with 18 American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) hatchlings growing healthily in the specially protected area designed for babies. Hopefully this means that our long-term aim, which is to release pure-bred native crocodiles into locally decimated populations, will be a great success.
Our other more short-term project is to convert a side room into a small natural history museum to display all the different flora and fauna surrounding this inland lagoon. We have finished creating 11 posters so the printing will start later this month and we can then begin presenting the information.
The bird surveys continue in this area as well and we have seen a few of the more exotic species return with the end of the wet season approaching. Like the tropical parula (Setophaga pitiayumi) and the American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). We are also regularly sighting the shy boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), which is a species that sits so still when spotted that it often gets mistaken for a rock. However, upon closer inspection, a surprising amount of colour can be found in its plumage to assist in its camouflage.
Mangrove reforestation project
With the greenhouse up and running, we have now collected about 500 small saplings, which are growing well. Our mangrove system in Chupadero mainly consists of the white mangrove so we are, therefore, initially only growing these saplings. Once we have had our first successful replanting, we wish to then move onto growing some of the other three species as well. In addition to rescuing the small saplings in wooded areas that would not have otherwise survived, we have also started to collect seeds from which a few seedlings have sprouted already.
Daniel, our resident mangrove expert, is doing a great job of launching this fledgling programme and hopefully, we will have our first large batch of saplings by the start of the New Year. We will then replant these in one of the four areas that have been identified as in need of reforestation.
Motion sensor camera traps
With the wet season in full swing, this project has temporarily been put on hold due to the vast amounts of mosquitoes in the mangroves and the increased flooding, which limits the movement of any animals and prevents us from also using the trails.
We have simply left our cameras dotted around and, after two months of not having captured any activity, we have finally seen images of a family of white-nosed coatis (Nasua narica), which consists of two parents and four little cubs. We have also captured footage of northern racoons (Procyon lotor) and several bird species, including the white ibis (Eudocimus albus), foraging for food. Collecting these cameras was exciting in itself as we had to wade through water that came up to mid-thigh level to reach our camera locations.
However, with the end of the hurricane season in sight, our aim over the next couple of weeks is to relocate the cameras and continue properly with this project again.
Beach clean-ups and camp work
The wet season has presented us with different challenges over the last couple of months. Rather than our regular beach clean-ups to remove any washed up material, we have spent our time trying to keep our camp area intact. The seas have been so high that the areas of our camp closest to the ocean are hit by waves every few days. These areas contain the turtle pools and most of the paths leading around the camp. We have, therefore, been on a constant sand clearing mission. However, over the last couple of weeks, the oceans have been much calmer so we will soon start our regular beach clean-ups again.
With regards to the work on our camp, we have been painting white sticks to keep track of how many nests are collected each morning. Now that these hatched nests are being cleared, we are simply recycling these old sticks, which always come in handy at a conservation camp.
Our peak period has been fantastic this year and we have achieved more than ever. We would like to thank all of our volunteers that have contributed so much time and energy to this. I hope that there will be many more volunteers to help us release the hatchlings that will hatch 45-52 days after the nests were laid, in line with the Olive Ridley egg incubation period.
Conservation Coordinator, Mexico