This summer, I dedicated three weeks to the conservation of turtles in Uruguay, South America. A small South American country, Uruguay is situated along the River Plata just across from Argentina. Montevideo, the capital, is close to the point where the Atlantic Ocean becomes river territory. Although a well-educated and stable country, cultural behaviours mean that much rubbish ends up in the ocean. This is critical for both river and sea turtles which ingest plastic and other inorganic materials. The debris obstructs their digestive tract and causes much mortality and morbidity for these animals.
Karumbé is a small voluntary organisation based in Montevideo. Relatively unknown and unheard of, it allowed me to have much hands on experience. Also offering a good opportunity to develop language skills as with low rates of tourism meant the population relies on Spanish for communication and English knowledge is relatively sparse.
Unsurprisingly, before leaving I was anxious about the level of my Spanish skills. And surely enough, after a thirty hour flight, communicating with the volunteer who picked me up for the airport was a challenge! Luckily, after a few days of easing into things and welcoming, patient fellow volunteers, the conversation began to flow more easily.
During my time at the turtle centre, I was able to learn the day to day chores for turtle keeping. This involvement daily tanks checks and cleaning. Furthermore, it was important to evaluate whether the turtles had eaten and defecated – a marker of improving health. Some animals required antibiotics, delivered via the subcutaneous route, other hydrotherapy and fluid injections. All these therapies were delivered by the volunteers and I was able to gain these practical skills. Investigations such as X rays and blood tests were required in the turtles which did not show the anticipated recovery. During my time at Karumbé, I was fortunate to receive tutorials in order to learn about conservation, different turtle species and learn anatomy through necropsies.
The three weeks spent in Uruguay were an unforgettable experience. I was able to gain new biological knowledge, along with language skills and many problem solving skills needed for travelling in a foreign country. A little country relatively unheard of in the UK, I would recommend a sneaky peak at Uruguay, especially if it can be combined with an exceptional learning experience.