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Conservation & Environment, Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico by Jim Kelly

When I first arrived in Mexico, I firstly noticed the people. One thing I hadn't expected was for everyone to be so friendly. No matter how silly my questions, or how bad my Spanish, I was always met with a smile. As far as first-impressions can be trusted, I was sure of a good time ahead.

Getting ready to release the baby turtles

I was met promptly in Guadalajara Airport by Carlos from the Projects Abroad office which was a relief, 26 hours and I've finally found someone that speaks English! My Spanish being somewhat rusty. We went straight to my host family where I was welcomed by my host mother and introduced to the family. Soon the other volunteer who was staying with me came back from his placement and showed me around the house and told me where everything was in our part of the city.

I spent the first three weeks of my trip living the city life in Guadalajara, home of most of Mexico's projects. I was part of the Spanish language placement, where I spent a few hours each day in a private tutorial, mostly brushing up on my appalling grammar! This gave me much free time which was spent exploring the city, practicing my Spanish, socialising with the other volunteers, and anything that came to mind. There's a real sense of freedom that comes with the way the placements and accommodation are set out, you begin to feel that you aren't staying here with an organisation, more that you're living and working in the city just like anyone else.

Me releasing a hatchling

After three weeks of enjoying myself in the city, it was time for some real work. I packed my bags and took the four hour bus journey out to Tecomán, Colima, where I would start my placement on the conservation project. I wasn't sure what to expect from the turtle camp out in the middle of nowhere, but as time went by I fell in love with it more and more each day. I've always loved the countryside, but with the nearest village or town 40 minutes away, this was the real thing. Words do no justice to the views and scenery out there, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I never thought I'd wake up in the morning, step outside and have a cowboy ride over to see how things are going.

Life at the camp is simple, there are set jobs to do, and once they're done, the rest of the day is yours to do with what you want. The jobs are set out on a rota, so that you only have certain jobs to do each day, but when there were only three of us there for a couple of weeks we all pitched in to get the jobs done more easily. The day begins with a 7.30am wake-up for "Camp Duty." Basically consisting of cleaning up after ourselves, the washing-up was done, and the camp generally tidied. 8am was time for the "Corral" where the turtle eggs from the night before were taken and buried in hand-made nests we made ourselves in the Corral, a protected area safe from poachers and wild animals.

So many hatchlings

Later on came "Turtle Feed", exactly what it says. There are a number of turtles kept at the camp in large pools, partly for visitors to come and see what we do, and partly because they are mostly injured and wouldn't survive back in the ocean. They feed daily either on fish, or lettuce and cucumbers. Another job was "Pool Clean." Needless to say a lot of turtles mean a lot of mess! After all this, only one job was left to do, the favourite of almost every volunteer; "Night Patrol." There are three patrols a night, two at midnight, one to the north, one to the south, and one at 3am, to the south.

These patrols consist of patrolling (evidently) along the beaches to the north and south, (16 and 12km respectively) with one of the conservation workers that also live at the camp. This takes place on the back of a quad bike, which if you're anything like me was one of the best bits, and lasts about 3-4 hours, depending on how many turtles are laying. On patrol you work together with "The Mexican Guys" as they're known, the Semarnat workers, to locate and collect recently laid turtle nests, whilst collecting information on the nest and eggs, and also the laying turtle if it's "caught in the act."

The office in Guadalajara

Watching a turtle lay its eggs, let alone incubating them and seeing them hatch, before watching them return into the ocean is one of the most amazing things I've ever done. It's one of those things you watch on TV at home, and think to yourself, "Wow, it'd be cool to be there." In truth, it's more than cool. I've learned more about turtles than I thought there was to know about them, and I'm left in awe at the continuing struggle of an endangered species. Coming here has taught me so much, not only in life experience, but also shown me why respect for nature is not only important, but necessary.

I'm back in the city now with only one day left before I fly home, and writing this is making me think back to my entire stay here. I've had an amazing time, which I wouldn't change now for anything. I've met some wonderful friends, both Mexican and non, I've danced the night away, and hopefully made a difference, if somewhat small, to an endangered species. I've certainly had some adventures here. Mexico has become like a second home to me now, it's a wonderful place with a most amazing and diverse culture. My only regret is that my time here is over so soon! I'm sure to return "pronto".

Finally, I hope that if you choose to come to Mexico, you'll have as wonderful a time as I have.

Jim "Jaimito"

Jim Kelly

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