Days 9 and 10


A view of the sunset outside our house.

Tuesday August 7th, 2012.

This is Alle writing with Ric next to me:

Each day we appreciate the Punta San Juan project a little more. The researchers here are amazing, and the work they do is nothing short of inspirational. Unfortunately, the guano harvest hasn’t begun yet, but in the meantime we are learning a lot about what they do here to help all the marine life in the area, and we are helping to prepare for the harvest.

The Peruvian Government is having issues getting everything that the guano harvesters need and they can’t begin until everything is set up. For example, there will be around 250-300 workers here, and they need their tents, latrines and showers set up for the next few weeks. About 50 men have showed up already to help to set up, and we’ve been working with them to ensure that they have everything that they need, and the animals are well protected. Tents have slowly been going up around the reserve, and things are starting to take shape. We are optimistic that we will see the start of the harvest before we have to leave! If nothing else, we will be helping the penguins in many other ways.

For example, Tuesday was another constructive day here on the reserve. We spent all morning cutting boards for signs that will be hung around the reserve to tell the guano workers to avoid certain areas due to the wildlife. I want to give a special shout out to my dad who taught me how to be a good carpenter, because it definitely came in handy today (and I still have all of my fingers!). So, thank you, Dad! (Ric says “Awww…”)

All these little tasks that we have to do will ensure that the penguins and other marine life stay protected and safe during the harvest. Ric and Hector continued with their census project today, which Ric says has had him seeing sea lions and penguins in his sleep.

Ric, with his partner Hector, working on the animal census using pictures on a computer.

Also, I had another interesting task on Tuesday: I practiced my taxidermy skills. The other day while setting up some of the guano harvest area, we found a deceased juvenile penguin. The people at the Punta San Juan Project decided that we could preserve the skeleton and skin and keep it in the mini-museum they have here for educational purposes.

Alle with Jose and their taxidermy juvenile penguin. This penguin was found deceased near the reserve, and they wanted to preserve the structure for educational purposes. When volunteers take census of the penguin colonies they have to distinguish between juveniles and adults, and this penguin will be a great visual aide.

Well, they needed someone who could sew, and so another volunteer named Jose and I took up the mission and helped clean, prep and sew the penguin back to an appropriate state. It was definitely an interesting thing to do, and it really will help to educate other visitors about the differences between juveniles and adult Humboldt penguins. This knowledge is important because when volunteers do the census of the colonies, they must distinguish between the juveniles and adults for an accurate count.

PS. A fun little side note to Tuesday — The phrase “no worries” is used a lot here on the reserve, so when we were working on the signs on Tuesday, I (Alle) started singing “Hakunah Matata” from “The Lion King” (since it means “no worries”), and it started a montage of singing in Spanish, English and Dutch! What an interesting cultural experience. We were all singing in our native language and then we learned from each other how to sing it in the other languages.

Wednesday August 8th, 2012

This is Ric writing:

Wednesday is looking like the beginning of the setting the perimeter for the harvest. This is what all of us have been waiting for the past week.  The guano workers have been preparing the base camp for the 250 – 300 workers that will be arriving in the next week.  Field observations on Tuesday were interrupted by the guano truck as it was establishing the extraction road.  Our data collection over the past week has been for base-line data; when the work begins we will be looking at the changes on the beaches and the colonies.

Ric and Hector from Moody Gardens figure out a way to set up the moveable blind. This blind will be a visual barrier between the penguins and the guano harvesters. The theory is that the penguins will be less disturbed if they cannot see the workers. We hope this works; Thursday will be the trial.

Fifteen meters is going to be a magic number from the colonies to the harvest.  The perimeter will meander along the cliffs. We are preparing an experiment with a moveable blind.  A light fabric mesh was brought in to see if a visual barrier can reduce the disturbance of the colonies. This new idea is a mutual benefit between the harvesters and the biologists so the birds are not disturbed, and the collectors can get more product. Hopefully it works! We will let you know the outcome on Thursday or Friday after we do the initial test.

Now this is Alle writing:

So we would like to respond to someone who had posted a comment to one of our blogs a couple days ago. Someone named Nate-O asked “What are you going to do with all that guano?!” This is a great question, and we briefly mentioned it already, but we thought other people might be asking the same question since we have touched on the subject but never really elaborated. Well, this harvest is a controlled harvest that is conducted by the Peruvian Government every 4-7 years or so (the last harvest took place in 2007). It has to occur in these long of intervals so guano has time to build up and make it worth the while for collection. There are a lot of factors that interfere with the collection. The government has to measure the amount of guano, ensure that the harvest occurs outside of the penguin’s breeding season, and coordinate the right number of workers to get the job done. After the collection, 10% of the collected guano goes to overseas sales, and the rest gets distributed to the local farmers to be used as fertilizer with their crops. This is especially prized to the farmers who live in the mountain regions because the nutrients in the soil are altered with the higher altitude, and the guano helps the productivity of their crops. So that is what we are going to do with all the guano! And while we are here, we are going to make sure that none of the wildlife is affected during the collection (like Ric mentioned above, hopefully the experimental “moveable blind” will be a success, too).

We would like to say HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Franco, who is Ric’s roommate and a worker here for the Punta San Juan project. He turned 27 today! We sang happy birthday to him in English, Spanish and Dutch! Happy birthday, Franco!

How to catch a penguin biologist. Susana, the coordinator for this conservation effort set the fox trap in the dining room with JIF peanut butter. She was hoping to catch a biologist, and Daniel fell right into her trap. It’s true: penguin biologists LOVE peanut butter!

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