A really slow start
When we started our publicity for this years’ volunteer program and received the first messages in February, noone thought that one single person eating a wild animal in China would change the world so dramatically… and maybe forever.
We actually had our first volunteer reservations for June and August when the borders around the world started to close and it got impossible to travel. We even received inquiries when there was a first recovery evident in Europe, but Central America to this date remains closed to conventional tourism and the airlines keep cancelling and postponing their flights.
So we gave up all our hopes for this year.
Our establishments are ready for use, but for now we’re trying to maintain them and keep them fresh-looking for a time when people will be able to travel again.
The virus in Nicaragua has been a really controversial issue. Basically, life has been going on as usual. The only differences are the closed borders, the masks on everyones faces and a few stricter hygiene protocols. There was no national lockdown and no quarantine – even the parties and festivals continued.
The government tried to keep the economy alive and for the most part it seemed to work. However, thousands of people have been affected by the loss of the tourism revenues. So it’s the same here as everywhere: Many people are facing an uncertain future.
Just the two of us
The good thing is that Melvin and I kept our day jobs, so we have been able to live as comfortably as usual during all this time. There is not so much work to be done right now at MEMANTA but whenever possible we try to hire local men or women to support them as well.
I was still joking that we wouldn’t even notice if there was a quarantine in place – we have basically been doing voluntary self-isolation since we moved here. On a usual day, we don’t see anyone. We don’t leave our property – this is where we sleep, eat, work and play. Just occasionally we have friends from the community visiting us. Sometimes we go out ourselves to socialize a bit – after five days of not seeing another soul it gets about time 😉
So in the end nothing has changed for us. We’re still here, we’re still enjoying life, and we’re still keen on protecting those turtles and beachfront forests.
One big news is our newest addition to the family: Milo, who was given in our care by a friend who returned to her home country. The picture above was taken a few days after he arrived – by now he’s already so much fatter 😀
We also spent some time discovering what’s lying behind us: The Padre Ramos estuary with one of the biggest mangrove ecosystems in the world. It is a protected area but enforcement is not as strict as in other countries. The Padre Ramos estuary is especially famous among turtle experts as it is one of the few nesting places worldwide for the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill turtle – a rare sub-population that is living in estuaries (where sea- and freshwater meet) and has only been discovered around 15 years ago.
We also had a few more encounters with critters, snakes, lizzards and other species. However, it seems that the bigger mammals who once roamed the forests of Venecia are being exterminated. Unfortunately we even had to witness a purposeful killing of a wild fox ourselves…. the fox had killed some chickens and the only solution to that was – apparently – killing the animal. The worst part: The murderers were little kids. I just wish we could initiate a change before all the wild mammals will be gone from this peninsula.
A promising hatchery season
We were not prepared at all when some guy came by on the 25th of April and wanted to sell us a sea turtle nest. Last year, we didn’t receive our first nest until July!
But fortunately we had some spare bags that could be filled with sand and our tiny hatchery was still functional so we relocated the nest successfully. And from there on, it didn’t want to stop.
The pictures above were taken on the 16th of May when we relocated our third nest already.
By the end of July, we had relocated 10 Hawksbill nests and 1 Olive Ridley nest. Hawksbills nest earlier in the year and most nests were brought to us from the nearby beaches in the estuary. Then, in August, the Olive Ridleys started to come “en masse”. By now we have 27 nests in our hatchery – that’s a lot more than last year!
I have no idea how many nests are being laid on the entire beach as we still only see a tiny fraction of them protected. This year, we have been working with 4 chosen egg collectors. Whenever they come across a nest on the beach, they call us or bring it directly to our house where the hatchery is located. But most nests are still being found by other people from the community and are being sold to the market. It’s nothing to worry about because Hey – we got a lot of potential to grow in the future!
Lots of nest adoptions
We need to pay for the nests we protect. I mean, nobody forces us to. But if you don’t find the nest yourself and don’t want it to be sold to the market, you have to pay. Nobody will “gift” you a natural resource that is worth some 20 US-Dollars – for some people in the community, this is their only income source because job options are non-existent here if you’re not a fisher or a farmer.
With Melvin and me being quite busy during the day with our jobs and the maintenance of the empty project site, we don’t have much time for patrolling the beach at night. So we leave that to our egg collectors and happily pay for their effort. In the future – that means, once we have volunteers – we will start patrolling the beach regularly and maybe we will find a few nests on our own, but we will never be able to fill our hatchery to the desired extent if we don’t buy nests from the egg collectors as well.
With so many nests coming in so early, we soon realized that we needed some help. So we set up a NEST ADOPTION PROGRAM where people donate the money that we use for buying the nests. Nest sponsors receive a certificate and lots of pictures of the hatchlings. A few examples that were taken by daylight are seen below.
We are really grateful that we had quite a few donations coming in from Germany – from family members, old school friends and people we didn’t even know. There was also one donation from Canada. And finally we received the wonderful news that the german NGO MSV Nicaragua would sponsor a few more nests – we got to know these guys last year as they run a sea turtle project on a beach nearby and they have been supportive and helpful from the beginning. It’s a big relief for us as we haven’t always been welcomed with open arms since we moved here.
The donations will have us covered for some more time but if you still want to adopt a nest and receive your very own pictures and videos, you can do it via the PayPal link below. You can donate in your own currency and it will be automatically converted to Euros.
A really wet year
They had predicted a very active hurricane season, which also means there will be lots of rain in Nicaragua. It’s crazy how a tropical storm in the Caribbean still affects us in some way on the Pacific Coast. And then, of course, there are the tropical storms in the Pacific that hit us even harder. And some super-clouds forming over all of Central America. And then there’s still the usual thunderstorms that fling by for an hour or two at night.
In May, it didn’t stop raining for two weeks which resulted in an early formation of our temporary creek and an early outbreak of mosquitoes. The rainy season calmed down in July but in August there was another week of continuous, heavy rain. You can see the results of this madness below.
We had to cover our hatchery as it was just too much rain for the nests to handle. The high moisture and the compaction of the sand had already affected some of the nests in May – we had learned our lesson and put a roof over the hatchery. The thing is that the drainage in those sand bags is not the same as in the ground, so bag hatcheries like ours are more susceptible to heavy rain.
Also, a great part of our property flooded. You can see that the water level was even above the ground level in some parts! A lot of people got their houses and their crop fields flooded. But as the water accumulated, a lagoon formed on the beach and finally broke through to release all the excess water into the ocean. Since then, we water level has been going down continuously.
But the rain wasn’t the worst part of it – it’s the mosquitoes that started coming about one week later. And they won’t go away until we’ll have dry weather again.
This rainy season has been quite challenging for us and it’s not over yet. I remember last year being a lot drier – the flooding and the mosquito outbreak didn’t happen until October. But every year is different, so all we can do is adapt ourselves.
There are also good things about it – we saw frogs, dragon-flies, fish, herons and all kinds of other animals coming in with the water. Before climate change, Venecia turned into a temporary wetland during most part of the rainy season. Now, the animals have to take advantage of these extraordinarily wet years because it’s all they have left. In the end, this village is called “Venice” for a reason.
New challenges – High expectations
I probably forgot to mention so many things in this blog post as I tried to cover a really long time. But I just want to say that we are doing fine, we are very happy about all the support from around the world, and we keep doing our conservation work no matter what. We really hope our business model – combining conservation with tourism – will work out one day and we’re crossing our fingers this will be already in 2021. I know people still want to travel and get to know other cultures and ecosystems. So as long as the world can adapt to this virus, MEMANTA will be a great success story.
See you soon, hopefully under better circumstances!