Aug 27, 2021

Who is part of the solution to plastic pollution?

Plastic pollution of sea turtle nesting beach
Plastic pollution of sea turtle nesting beach

Who is part of the solution to plastic pollution?

In September, we will participate in Clean up the World Weekend, an event aimed at raising awareness on the amount of pollution in our environment and bringing people together to clean it up. It is unfortunate that we still need to have these days and organize events to raise awareness on pollution. Despite knowing the harmful effects of pollution, especially plastic pollution, humans continue to produce, use and discard plastic in an unsustainable manner. As we know, our trash usually does not stay in one location but travels to other places, countries and even other continents. 

This waste is a problem for animals everywhere, including sea turtles. In the ocean, they can get entangled in waste, such as plastic rings and fishlines, or mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest it. But the accumulation of waste on the nesting beaches can also cause problems for the sea turtles, preventing the adults from finding an ideal nesting place and sometimes forcing them to return to the sea before being able to lay their eggs. The hatchlings can get trapped in or hindered by the waste on the beach which can slow them down, giving predators an even better chance of catching them or causing them to dry out if they stay in the sun for too long. Recent studies have also shown that microplastics found in the sands on the nesting beaches, can raise the temperature in the sea turtle nests. The sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature in the nests. Lower temperatures mean more males and higher temperatures more females so higher temperatures in the nests mean that more females will hatch. It is clear that plastic pollution is a danger to sea turtles in all of their life stages and unfortunately, we are still seeing a large amount of waste being accumulated by humans.

While it is obvious that there are a lot of issues, we notice an increased awareness of the issues and more importantly, an increased willingness to be part of the solution! We receive calls from various people, organizations and companies saying “we want to help!”. That is why we are involved in various projects and activities to raise awareness and find solutions for plastic pollution in Suriname. In September only, we are working on our own awareness activities and are involved in 2 projects that target this issue. These projects and activities are being organized with or by different organizations that target different groups from adults to children. The first is a Green Challenge Summer School for children between the age of 8 and 14. The children will participate in a designathon during which they will learn more about plastics and design solutions for plastic pollution in Suriname. The individuals or groups with the best designs will get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to four investors in the “Turtle Tank”, a panel consisting of four Surinamese companies that produce plastics. The winner will get SRD100,000, provided by the panel, and assistance to further develop their design.

We were also approached by the Foundation for Sustainable Nature Management in Alusiaka (STIDUNAL), a community organization for environmental protection consisting of members of the indigenous village Galibi where one of the biggest sea turtle nesting beaches is located, to help them develop a billboard to raise awareness on pollution among the community members and visiting tourists. They created a sketch of the design and we helped find a volunteer to execute it and fund the production of the billboard. We hope to be able to deliver the billboard when we go to the village in September for our summer activities. During the summer activities which are aimed at the children in the village, we will play games and teach the children about the mangroves, sea turtles and the harmful effects of pollution. Since the activities are scheduled during the Clean Up the World weekend, we will also organize a beach clean-up with the community members.

Sometimes it may seem like our work is not enough, and the reality is that a lot more work needs to be done. But we cannot do it alone, it’s simply impossible. That is why we continue to organize the cleanups, the awareness sessions and summer activities to educate people, raise awareness and even change hearts and minds! People participate, not knowing much about the environment and the dangers of some seemingly harmless activities they had been engaged in. They leave, empowered with knowledge and fueled by a passion for the environment and join the growing group of people around the world who want to be a part of the solution!

Thanks to your contribution these activities are possible, and help save lives of sea turtles.

Plastic pollution on its way to sea
Plastic pollution on its way to sea
Several sea turtle nests with plastic around
Several sea turtle nests with plastic around
Meeting village leaders to discuss awareness
Meeting village leaders to discuss awareness
Promoting the green challenge summer school
Promoting the green challenge summer school
Jun 25, 2021

Meet Jupo, our Giant Baby

Jupo finally drinking some milk
Jupo finally drinking some milk

In the sloth wellness center in Saramacca, GHFS staff, veterinarians and caretakers rescue sloths, anteaters, and armadillos and receive interested visitors. We currently have a special guest: it's a girl and weighs 8 kg: meet Jupo, the giant anteater baby!

An anteater under official guardianship
Officials of Nature Conservation and the Public Prosecutor's Office immediately took action when an employee of GHFS reported to them in early March that a baby giant anteater was offered for sale on Facebook. The three men who illegally wanted to sell the animal were arrested, and the animal was confiscated. The prosecuting officer then turned the animal over to the care of GHFS. Our giant baby is an official 'ward of the state': she is under the guardianship of the State of Suriname. And as foster parents, the staff of GHFS also has to report regularly on her development!

International aid
Caring for the baby is not easy. Because we have little experience with the care of giant anteaters, we asked two experts of the Xenarthra specialist group for help: a veterinarian from Mexico and a zoo veterinarian in the United States. Grateful use was made of a beautiful Argentinian book, which documents the experience of an Argentine wildlife organization with the capture and reintroduction of giant anteaters in their proyecto ibera. The book has helped GHFS understand how best to care for and raise the animal to be released. GHFS Director Monique Pool says, "When the animal had just arrived, she was very stressed and would not accept food. Therefore she needs a temporary (human) mother. Her caretaker Yvonne spends time with her every day and strokes her on the belly. This belly contact helps build the animal's trust: Young animals have contact with their mother through the belly as she carries her infant around on her back. Even when they have become big juveniles, young giant anteaters prefer to hang around on their mother's back until the mother has had enough and even has to run away to teach her young to become independent. But you mustn't touch her on her back because she experiences that as a threat." Fortunately, Jupo is doing well now. She grows well and allows herself to be touched by her surrogate mother, Yvonne. "But that contact with people is also a dilemma because we hope that in a few months, we can release Jupo back into the wild, and then, of course, she should not have become too accustomed to people."

Puberty
In the wild, young animals stay with their mothers for up to a year. Jupo is, therefore, still too young to be released. Monique: "We think she is about 3-4 months old, but we can't be sure because we can't compare her with anteaters of the same age in captivity. Those are usually much too fat! However, based on her behavior, we can estimate Jupo's age: for example, did you know that giant anteaters exhibit adolescent behavior? Just like human adolescents, they prefer to sleep all day!"

Kitten milk from the Netherlands
Jupo has already gained 1.5 kg since she came to GHFS and now weighs 8 kg. She drinks up to 2.5 liters of milk every week, supplemented with termite nests. It is pretty challenging to find enough suitable milk: the entire Surinamese supply has been used up, which is why sister foundation GHFS Netherlands has sent a few kilos of special low lactose kitten milk. Besides that, she is already eating termites. Every day the caregivers in Saramacca go into the forest to 'harvest' termite nests: they saw off a small piece of the termite nest so that the nest is not destroyed, but the termite population can recover itself. The caretakers learned this sustainable eating habit from the anteaters themselves, who do the same in the wild, traveling up to 6 km every day to visit all their 'fixed' termite nests. When Jupo grows up, her caretakers will also take her on walks to learn to harvest termite nests herself. In addition, she will slowly get used to nature in a special enclosure in the forest behind the Sloth Wellness Centre.

We thank you for your continued support, without your help we would not be able to rescue animals like Jupo. Thank you!

Jupon with surrogate mom Yvonne
Jupon with surrogate mom Yvonne
Apr 29, 2021

Saving sea turtles! Going virtual...

Pre-COVID activities with children at Galibi
Pre-COVID activities with children at Galibi

I was 20 years old when I first saw a sea turtle, working as a volunteer at Braamspunt. It was a green sea turtle that had crawled ashore at dusk to lay her eggs. During my time as a volunteer, I also saw the threats these animals face and what needs to be done to protect them. This experience motivated me to increase my involvement in sea turtle conservation. Unlike most coastal countries, Suriname's general public does not have a strong connection with the sea and many people are not aware of the importance of the sea of Suriname to marine life, including sea turtles. Many have never even seen a real sea turtle and maybe never will if we do not act now to protect them. 

According to the WWF Living Planet Report of 2020, there has been a sharp decline in leatherback nests on our beaches, 95% to be exact. In 2018 there were only 719 leatherback nests counted in Suriname and while the official numbers for 2019 and 2020 are not in yet, they don’t look good. This report prompted WWF Guianas to write a regional action plan for the Guianas in which we are participating. While a lot of issues were discussed during the meeting, one thing became abundantly clear, there is a need for more education on sea turtles. Of course, we already knew that, which is why awareness is a key component of our sea turtle community programme. After all, how can we expect people to actively participate in the protection and conservation of these animals if they are not given the opportunity to do so? There are not a lot of activities that provide the general public with knowledge on sea turtles, and motivate them to advocate for the protection of these animals.

That is why we had planned to organize a 3-day workshop and fieldwork with university students and volunteers in 2020, as well as school visits and summer activities for elementary school students during which the participants would learn more about sea turtles, the threats they face and what they can do to protect these animals. Unfortunately, we had to cancel most of these activities due to COVID-19. However, we won’t let this stop us! We are currently converting the in-person workshop into a virtual course. The course will cover several basic concepts such as the biology of sea turtles, the threats they face and will also provide information specific to Suriname. Since the course is now virtual we have reached out to other marine biologists and researchers to ask if they would be willing to cover some of the course material. 

The schools have been closed for most of the year, meaning that the school visits could not take place. Instead, we have decided to make a fun sea turtle course for kids. To do this, we’ve enlisted the help of two secondary school teachers. One already has a youtube page that he uses to educate his students, and the rest of Suriname, about the environment and the human body. The other teacher is a tour guide with years of experience in sea turtle tours. 

While the COVID-19 situation in the city is worsening, Galibi, the indigenous village we work with, has so far remained COVID-19 free. We have organized holiday activities before to teach the children about the sea turtles and their role in the ecosystem in a playful way. The village leaders have expressed interest in similar activities for the summer of 2021, with due observance of the covid 19 rules. 

While COVID-19 has proven to be a significant obstacle for the execution of this programme, we continue to work towards our goal of providing knowledge and raising awareness. We believe that providing people with knowledge and the proper tools, will not only motivate them to actively participate in the conservation of sea turtles but also empower them to advocate for the conservation of not only sea turtles but the entire ecosystem.

The work with the community, children and going virtual is possible, thanks to your generous support!

These are the animals we want to protect
These are the animals we want to protect
Cheyenne conducting pre-COVID awareness activity
Cheyenne conducting pre-COVID awareness activity
Preparing for the virtual course on sea turtles
Preparing for the virtual course on sea turtles
 
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