Posts Tagged ‘sea turtles’

A joyful turtle: antidote to the saiga antelope catastrophe.

May 29, 2015

If you are still brooding over the horrendous ongoing saiga antelope fatalities (see Hugh Paxton’s last Blog post), here’s something a little more cheerful.

Best from Bangkok!


Guatemala: Turtle

June 20, 2014

This may not be billboard material or deter sea turtle egg thieves on Guatemala’s beleaguered beaches but Hugh Paxton’s Blog is rather proud of my daughter for making an effort. She seems to know more Spanish than me. Her contribution has been forwarded to Colum at ARCAS. He’s the poor bastard fighting the poachers.

Cheers from Bangkok!


Oaxaca arribada

October 2, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s blog is always delighted to hear from our man in Guatemala! It means he’s still alive! Enjoy this sea turtle action!

From: Colum Muccio []
Sent: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 12:26 AM
To: Hugh and Midori Paxton
Subject: Oaxaca arribada

Colum Muccio
Administrative Director
Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association/Asociacion Rescate y Conservacion de Vida Silvestre (ARCAS)
Lote 6 Calle Hillary, Km. 30 Carretera Interamericana
San Lucas Sacatepequez, Guatemala
Tel: 7830-1374, Cell: 5704-2563
E-mail: Colum_Muccio Website:

Wildopeneye new post: ARCAS reports 50 sea turtles per night at height of the nesting season

September 6, 2012

New post on Wild Open Eye


ARCAS reports 50 sea turtles per night at height of the nesting season

by wildopeneye

Colum Muccio of ARCAS

Colum Muccio of ARCAS

Here’s the latest ARCAS news from the nesting beaches of Biotopo Hawaii on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. Well done to all involved.

"We are entering the height of the sea turtle season and are counting up to 50 turtles per night in 8kms we patrol! As of August 31st, we have collected a total of 6,931 olive ridley eggs. 17% of these were found by our hard-walking volunteers, the rest donated by locals. We are slightly ahead of the egg count for this same time last year. We have also had our first hatchlings: 248 have hatched from 6 different nests. We have renovated the small hatchery thanks to the amazing efforts of Megan Reeve, Ryan Lupton, and Sabine Priestaff. Many thanks to them and all the other volunteers! Let us know if you can make a donation for the Sponsor a Nest program."

For more information about the wildlife conservation work of ARCAS in Guatemala please see their website.

wildopeneye | 05/09/2012 at 9:40 pm | Tags: ARCAS Guatemala, hatchery, olive ridley, Sea turtles, sponsor a nest program | Categories: Conservation, The World’s Water | URL:

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Colum’s Column: Guatemala sea turtle survey.

December 27, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s blog is delighted to receive this post from our heroic correspondent on the state of sea turtles in Guatemala’s turbulent slice of the Caribbean. Over to the man!

Colum Muccio Wildlife Conservationist with ARCAS

Colum Muccio Wildlife Conservationist with ARCAS

Guatemala has almost no Caribbean coast. The main Caribbean port, Puerto Barrios, is protected from the ocean by the Punta Manabique peninsula which juts out 50kms in front of it from the Honduran border, one of the most remote spots in the country. The Garifuna town of Livingston is west along the shore from Barrios towards Belize.
As part of the sea turtle survey I have been carrying out, I was accompanied by my friend and fellow sea turtle conservationist, Scott Handy, an Englishman who vows never to return to England (can’t stand the cold!) and bears an eerie resemblance to Beavis.
We spent the first day taking a high-speed boat ride from Puerto Barrios to Livingston. Unlike the misnamed Pacific, the Caribbean is usually calm with fewer swell, perfect conditions for such time-honored activities as piracy and drugrunning. In Livingston, we interviewed Julio Lee, an older guy of Chinese descent and member of the local shrimp fishermen’s cooperative, and Julian Arana, of the Association of Traditional Garifuna Fishermen. The Garifuna are an ethnic group of mixed blood escaped African slaves and indigenous people who have settled the Caribbean coast from Roatan Honduras to Belize. They are cool, and we talked outside on their dirt patio under a mango tree while I could see the womenfolk in the house laboriously giving each other hair weaves.

Julio and Julian are good friends, and both are proud to be from Livingston and though they are well-travelled (there is a big population of Garifunas in New York) couldn`t consider living anywhere else. There are ethnic tensions though, and the Garifunas tend to blame the Ladinos, who tend to blame the Belizeans, who blame Guatemalans who cross the border… and if everything else fails you can always  blame the Culi (?) apparently another ethnic group of Hindu origin who many Livingstonians accuse of being the worst poachers of sea turtles, manatees, coral and queen conch.
Overfishing is an issue in the area. He claimed that a French (???) biologist went to Livingston in the 80s, and after his research, recommended to Julio that the shrimp fishing fleet not exceed 50 boats. “there are how many now?” “There aren’t any shrimp.” , and Julio claimed that the shrimp boats had not gone out to fish in five months. Some people blamed the BP oil spill.
We took a stroll up the main street of Livington and saw sea turtle shells, fan coral and queen conches (all supposedly protected) for sale in local souvenior shops. But, especially the turtle shells looked old and moth-eaten and there wasn’t any indication of an industry of jewelry making or other mass-use of these products. There were none of the hawksbill shell earrings and necklaces for sale that you see in a lot of other Caribbean countries. I asked the vendor if I could get the shell out of the country by plane and he assured me that it would be no problem.
The following day, we drove out to Quetzalito, travelling through mile after monotonous mile of banana and African palm plantations. The palm trees were loaded with clusters of fruits that are pressed and produce oil for shampoo and cooking oil. The banana bunches are covered with blue plastic bags to protect them from insects, and when harvested, are carried through the banana forest on a system of overhead rails.
After getting lost in the maze of dirt roads crisscrossing the plantations, we finally arrived on the shores of the Motagua River, where we were going to board the boat for the ride out to Punta Manabique. Excuse my French, but if Peten is the lungs of Guatemala (being the largest forest area in the region) the Motagua River is the asshole! As we neared the boat, I could smell the distinctive odor of cheap laundry soap. The shores were covered with trash and plastic bags and occasional dead animals were floating in the water. This river has its orgins in Quiche in the highlands, more than ??? kms away and passes near Guatemala City before flowing through the Motagua Valley to the Caribbean. As in many areas of Guatemala, bodies of water are seen as convenient ways of disposing of waste (out of sight, out of mind!), and, on cue, as we took off in the boat we saw a man come down to the shore and nonchalantly empty a garbage can full of trash into the river. Combine with this household waste the runoff from banana, African palm and other plantations up and down the watershed, it’s hard for anyone to legitimately point the finger.
The Motagua is a recognized problem in the area. Sea turtle conservationists in southern Belize claim that plastic waste from the river covers local beaches and prevents sea turtles from nesting, and apparently the government of Belize has filed a lawsuit against Guatemala due to the contamination. As we motored out into the ocean, there was a dead zone of several kilometers around the rivermouth with the same murky water and laundry soap smell. It was sad to see such a large and powerful river apparently devoid of any life and of no productive use to local wildlife or humans. There were no egrets or kingfishers to be seen, no fish jumping… not even the ever-present and all-invasive boat-tailed grackle!
Just thinking about how productive and beautiful the Motagua river must have been even just fifty years ago made me want to do something about, start a clean-up campaign… then performed a reality check, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of communities from Quetzalito to Quiche who like the man we just saw, views the river simply as a cheap garbage disposal service.
Once we motored out of the Motagua garbage plume, the water turned clear blue. We followed the coast east, and unlike most other coastlines in Central America, the Manabique Peninsula was refreshingly devoid of any sign of humans. Although the cattle-ranching frontier is spreading into east, it is said that there are still monkeys and perhaps jaguars in the area. Punta Manabique was declared a protected area, but as in many sites in Guatemala, that is easier said than done. Despite its protected status, hunting and fishing is still carried out without any regulation. Lawlessness is rife, and drug traffickers have bought a large farm and displaced an entire community.

During this economic crisis we are facing, an interesting term has popped up “Too big to fail” referring to the financial conglomerates with very solid-sounding names that helped create the crisis in the first place. Why can’t we adopt the same attitude to ecosystems like the Motagua River watershed? In the survey of Guatemalan sea turtle hatcheries I have been taking part in, I’ve seen similar too-big-to-fail cases. In order to travel out to Punta Manabique, which is the long peninsula across from Puerto Barrio, on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala Rio Motagua… the oceans are too big to fail, yet at the same time, too big to regulate.

Guatemala: Turtle Diary

March 28, 2011



Hugh Paxton’s Blog is lying in a restless, one might say vicious, hammock on the Pacific coast of Guatemala waiting for nesting sea turtles to leave the crashing surf. There’s a volcano erupting inland. Raindrops as big as pennies are rattling off the palm-frond roof of our shelter. Lightning is tearing the night sky apart.

“Is it usually like this?” I yell across to Colum Muccio.

Muccio should know. He has been working with ARCAS, a Guatemalan conservation organisation for years. Many years!

“Usually like what?” he yells back.

“Like apocalypse! And why is this b****dy hammock trying to throw me on my b****dy head?”

Muccio’s answer is drowned out by a thunderclap.

My eagerness to conduct a nocturnal beach patrol dwindles. This is real tropical rain. Drenches you in seconds. Floods roads. Washes away defoliated mountain slopes. Drowns sea turtle beach patrols.

Then, abruptly, someone turns off the tap. The silence is deafening – for about 30 seconds. Then, as if a conductor has twitched a baton, there is a concerted explosion of insect orchestrals from the mangroves behind us.


The actual location of Hawaii (that’s Hawaii, Guatemala, as opposed to that other place in the Pacific) is as striking as as its storms and shrieking insects. The turtle beaches are black volcanic sand cut off from the mainland by a mangrove-lined canal that is main road, bath and larder to local fishermen. Similar mangrove canals follow the coast as far down as El Salvador hosting a rich and idiosyncratic wildlife population: basilisks or “Jesus lizards” walk – or more accurately scuttle- on water using their flat webbed feet, and four eyed fish among others.

BLOG ED NOTE: The evolutionary four eyes plan is cunning. It enables the fish to keep two wary eyes on avian predators above while keeping two alert eyes focused on potential prey and predators below the water’s surface.

But I digress. Back to the plot!


ARCAS runs two volunteer programmes; there is a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre on the shore of Lake Petenista near the ancient ‘lost’ Mayan city state of Tikal, in the jungles of Peten near the Mexican border. And there is this turtle hatchery (complemented by caiman and green iguana breeding facilities) in Hawaii.

Volunteers are not just welcome but needed. They pay a nominal sum for bed and board.

The beaches of Hawaii suffer a problem common throughout Central America. Poaching.

Turtle eggs are regarded – yes, you are probably ahead of me on this one – as an aphrodisiac.

“Guatemala’s human population is growing at nearly three percent a year, so aphrodisiacs are the last thing this country needs,” Muccio says wryly, “and this beach is technically a protected area so we shouldn’t have to be doing this at all.”

He hauls himself out of his hammock. “Oh for a perfect world! Let’s go and meet the crowds.”

Crowds may be overstating the case somewhat, but, despite the recent torrents, the beach has more people on it than I ever saw during the day – hueveros (egg collectors) one and all.

Two old men wobble past on bicycles proving an exception to the general rule: Egg poachers mainly seemed to operate alone, heads turning sheepishly away from us as we passed.

Muccio isn’t a policeman (from Washington DC he isn’t even Guatemalan) so stopping hueveros is not an option. Also they’ve got machetes and not a few smell of Venado, a vicious sort of local gin that aids bad temper.

Instead of becoming involved in blood drenched beach brawls, ARCAS has hit on a pragmatic, if less than perfect, agreement with local hueveros: They are asked to hand in 12 eggs, roughly ten percent of a nest load, to the protected hatchery. According to Muccio, about 50 percent comply with the egg agreement.


…is ‘finders keepers’.

 First one to a nest takes all. Hence our patrol. If we get there first – well, it will be 120 olive ridley turtle eggs in the bag, into the nursery and then, once hatched, into the sea.

There the little fellahs will have to run the usual sea turtle gauntlet of shrimp trawlers, pollution, bull sharks, ghost nets lost by fishermen, etc. before eventually returning to their birth beach to lay the next generation. How any of them make it is frankly beyond me.

Still, at least we are giving them a start in life. Before the ARCAS operation began, not one single nest escaped the hueveros. Every egg was taken. Truck loads of eggs headed inland. This ultimately self-defeating practice was only made possible for as long as it was by the sea turtle’s extraordinarily long life span.

 “The key to success is to watch the sand just above the surf line for tracks,” Muccio explains. “Follow the tracks and you’ve got your nest. Easy.”

 As we plod along the beach, the din of the surf is our constant companion.

Turtles aren’t.

 One hour later – zip. Nada. My initial alertness fades. My thoughts wander towards the profound. Why the bloody hell am I doing this when I could be in bed? Why do I care about sea turtles? Why does Muccio care about sea turtles? The man could have a comfy well-paid job in the States instead of an incredibly unpaid job in Guatemala. Why have I signed up for two weeks of this slog?

And then the utterly profound! What will we be having for breakfast!

Hours pass. Still no turtles. Just one emptied nest. A hole in the beach, a wound in the world. Turtle tracks and human footprints.    


Breakfast turns out to be cold beer, bananas and chilli shrimps. No eggs. It happens at 4:30 a.m. And after it is done I hit the hammock like a hammer, which of course bounces me straight out again.  After hitting the floor like a hammer I fall asleep.

IN RETROSPECT: Precious Moments.

 The fortnight I spent on the beach passed swiftly. Days were spent dozing in the hammock, surf too rough and currents too weird for swimming, heat beating the black sand, too hot for naked feet at high noon.

There were moments of great beauty: sitting on the wonky wooden Hawaii dock watching the four eyed fish watching for herons above and fishy business below,. Pelicans on patrol. Sunset firing the mangrove canal’s water, fishing bats flitting low above the glowing surface. Flotillas of water hyacinth drifting slowly, slowly past. The jewelled eyes of a young caiman.

There were moments of of great excitement: finally finding a nesting ridley before a huevero, waiting patiently for her to finish her lay. What seemed to be tears were running down her cheeks. Muccio explained something technical about salt glands, but watching the turtle at her strenuous, ancient, fragile work I decided to stick with the tears interpretation.

There were moments of great optimism: the huevero who turned up with 50 eggs for the hatchery. The visit to a local school-run hatchery just down the coast, the children’s eyes gleaming with pride as they released hatchlings.

There were moments of great ugliness: two men in Chicago Bulls t-shirts, reeking of Venado (that vile rot gut I mentioned earlier), hauling a female off her nest before she could scrape sand back to cover it.

The turtle made no effort to regain the sea. Just lay there on the sand making feeble flicking motions with her flippers, water from her eyes driving narrow channels through the sand that caked her cheeks.

Local rules on this one. We watched them take every egg. We helped the turtle make it back to her sea. After dawn we waited for the two men to bring us the agreed ten percent of their raid. We waited in vain.

The last night in Hawaii was again split by storm. The volcano’s glow had faded. Quite a fortnight! And I finally got the hang of my hammock!       



BLOG ED NOTE: Colum Muccio is our Hugh Paxton blog Guatemala columnist. Noteworthy for not actually having time to really submit any columns. ARCAS remains doing what it does. He remains doing what he does. And he remains not earning much. But he keeps his Guatemalan wife in re-fried beans and his kids are doing good. The turtles are still coming back to the beach. The struggle goes on. If you are feeling rich and generous (Bill Gates! Can you hear me????) a donation would help! If you are interested in sea turtles read anything written by Archie Carr. A great start!

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