At 5:46am there was a knock on my door. Someone brought turtle eggs to Neftalí, the lanchero (boat driver)/employee of ICAPO. There are not too many days like today since the pescadores (fishermen) who find turtle eggs get paid for other things besides the total amount of turtle eggs they find. They also get paid for how many turtles are born (which increases the initial care for the eggs as they are put into the proper hands), as well as the temporary confinement of the female turtle (so data can be collected from her flippers). Today the pescador who found the eggs did not have a phone so he collected the eggs and brought them directly to Neftalí.
Paying fishermen for turtle eggs prevents them from selling them on the black market.
Even though it is illegal to sell turtle eggs people still do it.
It was surreal to be in a boat, speeding off to the vivero (turtle nursery which is located on another island, Punta San Juan), with over 120 Hawksbill turtle eggs on my lap.
Fresh turtle eggs are hard but they dent easily, and leave a mark much like a ping pong ball.
At 6:15am I was digging a hole for the turtle eggs; small at the top and wider at the bottom, mimicking the nesting females. I was told to put them in 7 at a time and to count, double checking the original count done at Neftalí's house. I told Neftalí it is easier to count by 5 but he said they always count by 7 because 1:7 of the funds are donated to ICAPO. I start counting; 7,14,21,28, what comes next?, 35, (meanwhile Neftalí starts talking to me), 42, 49, wow, people from El Salvador must be math geniuses, 54, oh no, I was at 49 now comes 56, then 64, wait, no, ummm... as the numbers got bigger I became more mathematically challenged. It was some point after 100 that things were clarified. I was supposed to count 1 for every 7, not by 7s. For example, if I put in 7 I should count 1, if I put in another 7, I should count 2.
They do this because fisherman are actually not math geniuses, and this way they can easily estimate their pay.
The vivero has a trench around it in case turtles hatch and try to escape, undocumented.
The trench is the second line of defense, when the eggs are reaching day 55 (the incubation period), wire cones are put around the nests so hatchlings are forced to gather here until they can by counted, and samples taken.
Just a few hours later I was waiting for the vice president of El Salvador, Óscar Ortiz, and the Ministro de Salud, Violeta Menjívar, who were coming via helicopter to inaugurate the first clinic on La Pirraya. Since the island came to be inhabited (by people trying to escape the civil war) the closest clinic was Usulután, which is not ideal for emergency situations.
Just before arriving at the inagguration I witnessed the lovely Violeta Menjívar shoot snot rockets into bushes outside the clinic. I couldn't even imagine the press that would get if the ministry of health did this in the United States. In El Salvador, apparently, it is acceptable.
The entire inaugaration lasted for about an hour. Óscar Ortiz spoke about the importance of vaccinations, and pregnant women getting check ups, and basically not being scared to come to the clinic for preventative purposes. The speech seemed very third world, but then I remembered where I was.
It wouldn't be a clinic inauguration without focusing on fútbol playa. Ortiz talked about fútbol as much as he talked about health, even inviting one of the players to speak, inspiring young men all over El Salvador, you can be an athlete even if you come from La Pirraya.
Why was that lady in front of my wearing a hat? Why was I leaning forward?
How often do you get to be on the news in El Salvador and not be in a body bag? Booo.
We waited here for at least a half hour, waiting with the cows and the police with huge weapons, for the vice president to depart.
Before long I was back with Neftalí, paying puestos, giving the fishermen their fair share based on the turtles that were hatched from their discoveries.
Mangroves make up less than 0.4% of the world's forests.
Unfortunately 20-35% of mangrove ecosystems have been lost since the year I was born.
Mangroves exist in intertidal zones so sometimes you can take the boat closer to your final destination, and sometimes you cannot. The tide was low when we were making payments so it meant more walking for us.
After dinner we were going to look for females laying eggs but when we got to the vivero there was a nest that had hatched! I got to hold my first baby turtle!
Every single hatchling has to be documented, their weight, the length and width, along with a DNA sample from their flipper.
It isn't easy to get them to stay on the scale when their brains are wired to find the ocean.
After collecting the necessary data we set them free, and then went searching for adult turtles laying their eggs on the beach.
We were not alone in this quest as it is a great supplementary income for so many, but tonight, no one had any luck finding sea turtles (not that they are not out here).
While we waited, I enjoyed a thunderstorm in the not-so-distant distance.
We were cutting across the island around 2am. What an amazing day in la Bahía de Jiquilisco.