Interview with Lisa Bauer, marine biologist.
Lisa participated in the sea turtle course in 2008.
What brought your attention to our Sea Turtle Course? Why did you want to participate?
I have always been interested in conservation biology, fieldwork and applied science. Moreover, it was a great chance to work abroad and get to know a different culture. Also volunteering during your studies is a good way to gain professional experience, life experience and…you engage in something meaningful. Very few people only have the chance to witness nesting or hatching sea turtles!
What was your most memorable experience in that summer in Turkey?
The most memorable experience was definitely spending time with a nesting Caretta caretta! There was nobody on the beach except my colleague, me and the turtle! Imagine you patrol on an almost pitch-black beach at night and all of a sudden, you see something in front of you, moving: A nesting female! You throw yourself on the ground, rob closer and watch the female digging a hole in the sand, laying eggs and covering the nest thereafter. Spending your night with a nesting female, an almost rare event nowadays, is an experience you will never forget!
The second memorable experience was making Turkish friends and getting to know the culture and different places, apart from the sea turtle camp. Don’t worry, your days will not be filled with work only, you will find plenty of time to enjoy, make new friends and have fun! Butterfly Valley is a place I fell in love with and will never forget.
What did you learn from the project?
Scientifically, I learned a lot about sea turtle biology, nest protection and monitoring, tagging, how to identify a net and nest excavation. In my current job, I profit a lot from this knowledge.
On a personal level, I gained valuable life experience. Spending time abroad, in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and in a different culture, helps so put things into perspective. You will learn a lot about yourself and grow as a person.
Did it influence your career?
It certainly opened up a new world for me, the field of marine conservation. To protect and study sea turtles during the course was my first experience in the conservation field and I am very happy the course is still held and the project ongoing. In my opinion, only long-term conservational projects have a chance to make a difference.
What do you do now? Is your job sea turtle related?
I am one of a few lucky Austrians who work in the Maldives, as the resident marine biologist of the tourist resort Coco Bodu Hithi in North Male atoll. Since the Maldives are located in the tropics, my work involves coral reef ecology and conservation. Around my island and nearby, Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) forage and last year in April we had a Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting on the island.
My work focuses mainly on the local sea turtle population and together with any person (guests and colleagues) interested in our project (citizen science), I collect data, using the photo identification method. It is a completely non-invasive method, which benefits from the fact that sea turtles have unique scale patterns on the right and left side of their face. These scale patterns help us identify individuals. There is no need to tag the sea turtle in order to recognize it! You just need a (UW) camera and the willingness to spend a lot of time underwater, which is the dream of almost any marine biologist I know.
The conservation aspect involves creating awareness among guests and my colleagues. Since sea turtles are charismatic animals, everyone wants to see and swim with them. By granting a person this wish, building a connection to these endangered or vulnerable animal species, you can easily create awareness and might even change a person’s attitude. Sustainable tourism is one way to conserve a species and its habitat by protecting what generates revenue. I strongly believe that we reached a level of exploitation and destruction of natural resources, where actively protecting wild animals and their habitats is the only chance for their survival. Reconnecting people back to nature, sparking an interest and love in the natural world and the realization, that this very natural world is necessary for our own survival, are my daily targets.
If you would like to learn more about Coco Collection environmental initiatives and projects, please visit our blog http://cococares.wordpress.com. To learn more about our partner organisation “The Olive Ridley Project”, visit their website www.oliveridleyproject.org.