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My Volunteer World (Part II): Hawksbill Turtle Rescue August 7, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Volunteer.
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Knowing I would come back to my Grenada experience in writing after my first article, I intentionally labeled it “My Volunteer World (Pt. I)”. As you might have imagined, and as the title implies, this is part two. For this installment, my intention is give a more human touch by telling of a specific experience that took place during my stay on Carriacou, Grenada. Where my last article focused on the macro side of development, this article is simply a details some of the things I got myself into while on project. Story telling has and always will be a large part of the human existence; here is one of mine.

During the 14th day of my life on Carriacou I helped keep a sea turtle alive for at least another day. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is internationally recognized as an endangered species. This means that it is illegal to import or export turtle products, kill, capture or harass them in any way. But realistically it means that they’re endangered for a reason; People don’t follow the rules. There is simply too much money to be made. Fishermen who do not follow these rules catch these beautiful creatures and in most cases, sell their meat by the pound to tourists who feel like eating something exotic so they can hurry home and tell their friends about the time they ate a turtle. However, on the island of Carriacou, there lives a man named Dario who runs Kido, an ecological research centre. His obsession in life is based on the preservation of animals like the one my story revolves around and practically, to a fault, nothing else. Through the years, Dario has established a relationship with his enemies in that they occasionally call him first to see if he’s willing to pay the equivalent amount for the turtle providing its kept alive. It was on one of these days, where my participation begins. I was walking through Hillsborough, the largest town on Carriacou, with my project partner Linda, when out of nowhere Dario calls us towards him. He, being an passionately eccentric Italian, began talking at us, “Hey, I don’t know you, but I know you, you’re the Canadian volunteers and I need your help!” We had never been formally introduced but, on an island with a population of 5,000, it was probably easy enough to spot us. He explained that there was a fishing boat with a turtle in the water and that he needed our help to get it out. You see, the turtle weighed in at nearly 200lbs. We hurried to the boat and Dario told me to jump in. Through all the commotion, I didn’t remember that I was technically forbidden to jump onto random boats by the volunteer organization I was there with, but honestly, had I remembered, I would have gone in still. The task was simple enough, put an extremely heavy endangered sea turtle onto a canvas stretcher while bobbing around on an old fishing boat. I would say Dario did most of the work but I was definitely in there getting my feet wet, literally, still figuring out the situation I found myself in. After walking the turtle off the beach, our crew of turtle rescuers waited as Dario wrote the cheque (360 EC, approximately $180 (CDN)) for the fisherman.

Who was part of the turtle crew? The turtle crew consisted of me, Linda, Dario, a random drifter Dario met that day, and a fellow Canadian who was volunteering at Kido with Dario. After payment was made, we carried the turtle through town, getting strange looks from both the locals and the tourists. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Dario kept repeating out loud that our intentions were noble and we eventually got to the modified Land Rover to transport the turtle. We drove it up the windy roads of Carriacou, praying that the turtle would remain calm until reaching Kido about 10 minutes later. Once we arrived, the whole lot of us carried the turtle down to the Kido Volunteer sleeping quarters (which doubled as a turtle rescue centre). While there, a parasite was removed from the turtles shell, it was measured, and eventually tagged. An interesting thing was that while all this was happening, a tourist group randomly came in and watched what was going on. Dario explained the situation to them and they were on their way, as if this was an everyday event planned for the tourists to see. The turtle was relatively calm, but at times moved around with great force. As the person responsible for holding the turtle in one place, I can definitely say that I had underestimated its strength. But the mission was a success and phase three was about to begin. We picked up the turtle one last time and made our way down a set of very steep stairs towards the private beach that was part of Kido. I don’t think I ever put so much effort into not falling in my entire life. It would have been disastrous. The Hawksbill was placed onto the beach, and moments later, it scurried into the water never to be seen by us again.

This entire experience was definitely the most exciting, non-project related, moment of my trip. The question that always plagued me since was whether or not there was a waiting fisherman around the corner ready to scoop the newly tagged turtle for the meat market yet again. Questions like that can’t be answered and therefore shouldn’t be asked. In my blissful conclusion to this story, I see her swimming around the warm Caribbean waters today. That was a story I was part of. I will tell another.

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