sea turtle volunteers

Madeline Ford

M13 , Mexico


Sea Turtle Conservation

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“My name is Madeline Ford I am 17 years old and I am currently studying my A levels at Pocklington School. I heard about Outreach International when a young woman came to the school to give an assembly on gap years; I then researched Outreach International and the Turtle Conservation program in Mexico looked the most interesting, as I am wanting to study Conservation at University.

After reading the information about the program and the comments of previous volunteers I sent an application email to Steve, who is a representative of Outreach International in the UK, and I was accepted. I then kept in contact with Steve who organised phone calls to get to know me as an individual better, and told me more about the program to make sure I knew what to expect.

As well as this Steve also got me in contact with Liz Grassby, who provided more information about life at the camp and went through the health and safety features I would need to know before my travels. Liz also informed me on the company who provided insurance for travelling, whilst Outreach International created me an account so I would get a discount on my insurance. I think that the communication I had with the representatives of Outreach International was great, they kept in contact at all times and gave clear information about what my volunteering program would entail, whilst also providing support with my concerns about travelling and such.

As well as staying in contact with Steve and Liz I also kept in contact with Greta Ruiz, who was an Outreach International representative in Mexico. Greta gave me further information about the camp, as she has worked alongside Israel (the head of the Turtle Camp), and was able to answer my concerns about camp life and the activities that take place.

Greta has an extreme dedication and interest in the camp and therefore knew the ins and outs of the camps whilst also forming strong relationships with the staff members at the camp as well as the volunteers. Greta organised where I would be staying the night I arrived in Mexico as well as letting me stay at her house the night before my flight back home. The communication I received before my travels was crucial as it made me feel more at ease with travelling by myself and I felt like I had a solid support system behind me if anything were to go wrong. I will sincerely miss Greta who was not only part of my support system before I left, as well as visiting me at the camp, but I also consider Greta to be one of my new found friends.

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Turtle camp next to the ocean, Mexico

A typical day at the camp would include doing activities around the camp in the morning which included jobs such as cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen or Palapas, resting in the afternoon when it was at its hottest, which allowed the volunteers to sleep or go swimming. Then in the late afternoons the volunteers, a member of staff and sometimes locals from the village would come to watch baby turtles be released into the sea.

This was the most magical experience; it was absolutely amazing that these baby turtles which had just hatched had the strength to make the journey form the beach into the sea, in sometimes rough conditions. It made me actually realise what an amazing experience it was and that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity which I am extremely grateful for.

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Turtles on the way to the ocean after release

On Tuesdays mornings we would travel to Tehaumixtle to go out on a boat to see adult turtles; we would be able to see the turtles in the morning as the sun was rising allowing the turtles to heat themselves up by rising to the surface of the sea. This was amazing as we were allowed to go snorkeling in the sea next to the turtles which allowed the volunteers to see the turtles in detail. We also went to another beach where we went on a hike to an old light house whilst also going snorkeling.

We would also do community activities such as Cine Mayto which was where we would put on a film for the kids in Mayto on Wednesday nights, and we would also try and keep the locals areas and around the camp clean by collecting rubbish. The community action was a brilliant thing, even though it wouldn’t make a huge difference, you could tell that the locals appreciated it.

This enabled the camp to form a strong relationship with the locals which heightened their chances of raising awareness of the need to protect the wildlife in their area.

At nights we would take it in turns to do patrol, at either 11:00pm or 5:00am, where two volunteers and a member of staff would travel the 12km beach on the ATV collecting the eggs found in nests whilst also documenting the amount of eggs collected. When we returned to the camp we would try and recreate the shape of the nests and then rebury the eggs, whilst also recording the date they would hatch. This was an amazing experience as I will never have the opportunity again to travel a stunning beach at night collecting turtle eggs with amazing people. By far the best bit of the patrols was collecting the eggs, however I will never forget the times I slept on the beach under the brilliant starry skies.

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Sea turtle hatchery at camp

In my opinion the experience has changed me for the best as I have become a more independent person whilst also improving my confidence; however, I think that the reason the camp has thrived is due to the volunteers. The volunteers have raised awareness for the need to conserve the turtles as well as bringing in extra money for the camp for vital equipment such as the radios.

I feel like I contributed to the project in the general activities around the camp and in the community, as well as doing my part to raise awareness. The thing I will treasure most is the amazing people I have met including the volunteers and the staff, not just at camp but also the people who helped me out during the process.

I’m still in contact with some of the volunteers and would like to keep in touch for a very long time; even though the sights and experiences I witnessed at the camp were incredible I think the best thing about the camp was the atmosphere. Everyone off all ages and different nationalities were friends to the extent that it felt like I had known these people for ages. When I got home people asked me if I was scared to travel by myself, but I generally felt like I wasn’t by myself. If I traveled with a group of friends this is what I have missed the most.

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Making new friends at turtle camp

I genuinely have no bad comments on my experience in Mexico, the people and the experience were amazing and I will treasure it forever; in fact, my experience at the Turtle Conservation Camp in Mexico has made me want to travel to different conservation programs.

I do have some advice though for people who want to volunteer in the future. In my opinion it is a great idea to learn the language before you go; I only did Spanish for GCSE and I found it difficult to have full conversations with the other volunteers and staff when I first arrived at the camp. My lack of knowledge of the language didn’t affect the way I interacted with the people there but I think that it would have been better for me to be able to have full conversations in Spanish with the people at camp.

Some absolutely golden advice for volunteering at the Turtle Conservation Camp in Mexico is bring mosquito repellent!!! They’re everywhere.

The food was different for me as I have never had Mexican food before. I think that Rakel did an amazing job in the kitchen with the food and I think that it was a great idea that the volunteers to take it in turn to help in the kitchen. One of the best things about the food was on Sundays we went to this little taco place which was AMAZING!! My new favourite food is Quesidillas which we had at the camp as well as at the taco shop. In fact, on the last night Gaby made Quesidillas for tea and then for breakfast which was the best sendoff ever.

I think that the experience was worth the money; I think that I wouldn’t have been able to spend the 5 weeks in Mexico as well as the activities we did with the same amount of money. I’m also very grateful to Outreach International for paying for my insurance.

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So cute!

I would definitely recommend this experience to others as it has changed me for the best. It has allowed me to develop my confidence in my own ability and around others which has been a problem for me, and also given me the ability to form friendships and do things I never thought I could.

The people and the atmosphere were amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience it has even helped me decide what I want to do in the future. I have actually been looking at Conservation and Zoology courses at university and I want to do a similar thing for a career. I would like to thank everyone who helped me from Outreach International for helping throughout my time volunteering experience and the staff and volunteers at the camp for making me feel welcome. This experience has changed me for the best and I wouldn’t change it for a thing.

I would definitely recommend volunteering with Outreach International it will change you for the best!