Traveling to Nicaragua

September 24th, 2016 I had the privilege of traveling to Nicaragua with a couple of like minded human beings.  Estero Padre Ramos, Nicaragua was our exact destination. I had never met any of my colleagues prior to the flight down there, and to be perfectly honest, I didn't have much of an idea as to what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it involved the conservation of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles, that it was part of the SWIM program through the Loggerhead Marinelife center in Juno, Florida and that I would be turning 35 during this trip abroad.

Perhaps I should start with a more thorough briefing of each of the organizations represented. The Loggerhead Marine Center is a non-profit education and ocean conservation facility located on the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County, Florida. The facility houses a variety of exhibits, live sea turtles and other coastal creatures. Their mission is to promote conservation of ocean ecosystems with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles, as well as be recognized locally and internationally as the leading authority in sea turtle education, research, and rehabilitation. With over tens of thousands of nesting sea turtles on their 9 mile stretch of coastline I'd say they have some great opportunities to learn and teach about sea turtles. I've enjoyed following them on Facebook for sometime and I found out about this trip through their monthly newsletter.

Now the SWIM program was created by the programs coordinator at Loggerhead Marine Center. SWIM stands for Serving the World's Imperiled Marinelife. Basically think of it as a combination of eco-tourism with local humanitarian outreach. For the Nicaragua trip, our main objective was to work with the local non profit group, ICAPO with in water sea turtle monitoring, mangrove restoration, nesting surveys, and marine debris removal.

One of my favorite memories from the trip involved the release of over 200 baby hawksbill turtles around dusk, two nights in a row. I have seen turtles hatch in Florida, but never had the opportunity to watch them so close once they make it to the water. Did you know that once they hit the water the babies swing their flippers against their body and remain motionless for a few moments, thus imitating a floating leaf in the water to avoid being dinner for a larger predator? Brilliant!

Another amazing experience was when we worked with local fisherman and marine biologists to capture, tag, weigh, measure and release juvenile hawksbills that swim in the mangrove estuaries.

We also spent some time in the local communities doing a beach clean up and mangrove restoration where we planted over 100 new mangroves.

And then there was the last day of the trip, my 35th birthday. I had completed an 11 mile hike through the Nicaraguan jungle the day before so I decided to opt out of anything physically demanding. Instead I spent the afternoon on the beach, looking for shells and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. I remember walking miles on a beach without seeing a soul. It was heaven, and then  about 200 yards ahead of me I saw a massive seashell pile. Specimens that I had only seen in books, never in person. Happy birthday to me!!! {P.S. ONLY keep the empty ones- NO live shelling no matter how rare the find }

It was the experience of a lifetime, one that I will always treasure and carry with me. Everyday brought a new adventure. I hope to be traveling to Nicaragua again for more hawksbill projects. The beauty was within the nature surrounding us, but it was also within the people who are fighting so hard to keep it that way. I'd like to say thank you Loggerhead Marine Center and ICAPO for giving individuals like me a chance to observe the local area and participate in bettering our earth and oceans. And to my fellow travelers, thank you for restoring my faith in humanity. It was nice meeting similar souls that actually give a damn about our environment.

With that, I would like to leave you with a quote from herpetologist, ecologist, and well known Florida conservationist,  Dr. Archie Carr , "For most of the wild things on earth, the future must depend on the conscience of man".