Karumbé - Turtle-y awesome volunteering.
Trip Start Feb 16, 2014
28Trip End Nov 01, 2014
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Needless to say, volunteering with sea turtles was my idea rather than Ric's, but we both had such an amazing time here! The Karumbé field station is based in La Coronilla, a small coastal town in the Rocha region of Uruguay near the border with Brazil, between Punta del Diablo and Chuy. We stayed here for two weeks and fell in love with the turtles (and Rubia the bird-chasing dog!).
Karumbé is run by scientists and is very much research-focused rather than 'hey, come here to pat some turtles'. Our daily plans varied a lot and included long beach surveys (18km) looking for stranded/dead turtles, sighting and recording turtles in the water at particular locations, setting nets from the beach to capture turtles, measuring, tagging and releasing (racing :P) captured turtles, doing releases with the public (including performing a turtle song and dance!) and helping to rehab and care for the sick/injured turtles at the house
Although five species of sea turtle have been recorded in the area (three of which are more common: green, leatherback and loggerhead) we saw only green turtles (Chelonia mydas) as these ones stay closest to the shore. The area is a feeding ground for juvenile turtles (not nesting) so most were between about 25 to 50 cm. We had two very sick, skinny turtles who were most likely full of plastic and one with fishing line around its head and flippers that had cut deep into the skin. The latter will probably be fine but the two sick turtles were sent to the Karumbé base in Montevideo for further care but it didn't look too good for them :( The beaches are lovely but are so covered in rubbish. Ric and I picked up lots of rubbish from one beach on our first day. The next day we were taken to the main beach and quickly realised why the volunteers don't usually pick up rubbish -you would need an army of people and a rubbish truck! We saw some locals just throwing a plastic bag into the canal on the beach. It seems like any effort to educate these people (if any) is not working very well.
Apart from the actual work with the turtles, we enjoyed cooking, campfires, constant Bob Marley or 'Irie', dancing, youtube videos (para fiestas buenas), practicing Spanish and family meals with a great group of volunteers and the coordinators
Our last day volunteering was Easter and after an egg hunt with Ric (this was absolutely necessary!), Ric hid lollies for the whole group and the girls raced against the guys to find them all :) A turtle skull turned out to be an unusual but surprisingly good hiding spot!
Other animals seen here were freshwater turtles that we got to release in a lake, a lost pet tortoise, a huge tarantula (possibly Grammostola mollicoma?), a beautiful owl (genus Lechucita), dolphins and killer whales (rare here)! No armadillos unfortunately although we did see their footprints :)
Volunteering at Karumbé was such a great experience; we learnt so much and met some really great people :)
Some turtle facts:
Karumbe means turtle in the local indigenous language. Tortuga is turtle/tortoise in Spanish
Only 1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to breeding age
By looking at isotopes in the layers of a turtle shell, you can tell what it has been eating in recent months
Unlike what the Disney movies show you, a turtle cannot 'climb' out of its shell
Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles in the world
Green turtles eat algae (and plastic unfortunately)