I arrived at Karumbe on Monday, after a 4 ½ hour bus ride from Montevideo.

Karumbe is a sea turtle research and rehabilitation center in La Coronilla Uruguay, a tiny coastal community near the border of Brazil.. They are doing great work here at Karumbe, and I am having a total blast participating to in the daily activities assigned to us “volunteers.” We are more like staff, and really help to keep the ongoing research efforts of Karumbe moving forward.
Accommodations – rustic. For years, the committed founder and helpers lived in tents during the research season, so I am hesitant to make any disparaging comments. I am pissed that there are still mosquitoes out in force with 50 degree nights (note mosquito netting). Sharing one bathroom/shower with 15+ people is a challenge. Last night I noticed a frog hop under my bunk, and was grateful it was not some other four legged creature. Let’s just say my immune system is being enhanced every day!
That aside – the food is great and prepared for us by a wonderful volunteer who pops in to Karumbe from time to time and could be a professional chef.
The important thing is that the staff are hugely competent and committed. They are very organized in training and mentoring volunteers, and provide us with meaningful assignments daily. I have met really cool young people from around the world, and it warms my teacher’s heart to see so many smart and committed environmental activists in this new generation.
So here are some of the cool things I have done since being here five days.
Day one there was a turtle release, where one of the captured turtles was assessed, tagged and returned to the sea. A couple of times a week there are “capture” events using nets from the shore to scoop turtles. These captured turtles are evaluated, documented and tagged so that their behavior and travels can be monitored.  One of the recently captured turtles was saved for release at a public information event on Monday to allow interested citizens to learn about the program and participate in the release. There are a lot of folks around since this is Easter week and kids are on vacation so families are taking a holiday. Perfect timing!
I have done one three hour turtle spotting/observation study, and am about to do another tomorrow. In this task, teams of three walk about 4 km to a high point called “cerro verde” meaning “green hill” and look for turtles, 10 minutes looking, five off. There are two observation spots where this is done twice a week. Kind of tedious, but important work.
We cross this bridge for all our activities. I noticed that folks at either end wait for each other to cross one at a time. I thought this was a nice courtesy. Turns out the bridge is not really safe as one of the major cables has snapped. But it is the only was across the river so we all continue to use it – carefully. I learned today that people have died in the river – deep with a swift current. I am very respectful of this river now.
A “survey study” is done once a week where teams of three walk the distance from Punta Diablo to Karumbe (18 km), looking for dead (beached) animals.  If we find anything (mammal. bird, turtle), we look for a brightly painted blue paint marker on the beak/teeth in the front, and hind legs, which indicated that the animal has already been spotted and logged into the data base.  Photos are taken with a new sighting, and other measurements taken.
Today we attempted to do a capture study at a nearby small and uninhabited island off the shore, one of the standard sampling sites. The survey boat could not be launched over the breakers, then the engine quit. Very difficult to keep an outboard operating in tip-top shape in a marine environment, she says  from experience (right Marne?). So the mission was abandoned, and we did a mini observational study, which yielded only one turtle spotting. With the fisherman and surfers all around, the smart turtles have gone elsewhere.
At the end of the day, one of the other volunteers (Rodriguez) and I had a special treat in being able to walk to cerro verde for a quick observation with a very accomplished and gracious bird expert who is collecting data in this area for her PhD. One of the really great things about Karumbe is that these amazing scientists and researchers are part of the staff, or “friends” of Karumbe and just pop in for a bit to do some work. Information junkies like me suck it up and tag on to anything interesting that comes along.

All for now – another observational study tomorrow – yipes! Last one up (again).
Thanks Diane, for sharing your experience with us. Interested in volunteering with sea turtles? More info

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