ARCAS Volunteering in Hawaii

In addition to its volunteer program at the Wild Animal Rescue Center in Petén, ARCAS hosts volunteers at its Sea Turtle, Crocodile and Mangrove Conservation Project on the Pacific coast near the village of Hawaii, 7 kms east of the main resort town of Monterrico.

Facilities in Hawaii Park

ARCAS’s conservation and community development activities on the south coast of Guatemala are based on the Hawaii Park (Parque Hawaii) where ARCAS hosts over 200 international and Guatemalan volunteers per year. The Parque includes a large central rancho with an office, meeting room, volunteer computer room, kitchen, bathrooms and a laboratory. Nearby are three volunteer houses with bunk beds, lockers and electric fans. Mosquito nets and sheets are provided, but towels are not. The crocodile, iguana and parrot captive breeding enclosures as well as other rescue cages are also nearby.

Eighty meters away, just behind the coastal dunes, are the three main sea turtle hatchery as well as a simple rescue center consisting of recuperation tanks and a necropsy table. A lookout tower is used for monitoring sea birds and mammals, as well as sunbathing. US-style 110 AC power. Accommodations are rustic but comfortable, and with the ocean breeze and roar of the surf in the distance, make for the ideal atmosphere to relieve the stress of modern life, ignore your smartphone for a while, and take in the wonders of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea Turtle Season

Three species of sea turtles nest at Hawaii: olive ridleys, greens and leatherbacks. The olive ridleys, which account for about 98% of eggs collected, nest roughly from July to late October, though solitary nesters arrive throughout the year. Along the roughly 10kms of coastline that ARCAS monitors, nesting frequency can be as high as 30 nests per night during the peak of nesting season in August and September. Leatherbacks nest in November and December but are much less common than olive ridleys with only 2-3 nests being recorded per year, and that number, unfortunately, is declining each year as the Pacific leatherback population is most certainly going extinct. Recent years has seen the first Pacific green nesting in the area, with 2-4 nests being recorded per year in August, September and October.

Egg Donation System

Under a system established in the 1980’s, local egg collectors are allowed to commercialize sea turtle eggs as long they contribute 20% of each nest to one of the @28 hatcheries in Guatemala. Nests are usually between 60 and 140 eggs with an average of 92 eggs. Egg collectors who donate are given a receipt which gives them the right to sell and transport the rest of the nest. Donated eggs are then buried in hatcheries and after a 45-55 day incubation period, the hatchlings are released into the sea.

ARCAS manages two hatcheries: the Hawaii Hatchery on the grounds of the Parque Hawaii; and the El Rosario Hatchery, in the fishing village of the same name, 6 kms to the east.
Turtle eggs are prized by locals as a supplement to their income and diets. On nights that the turtles come to lay their eggs, competition for nests is intense and it is extremely rare that a nest escapes plunder. Turtle eggs are sold to local buyers who transport them to restaurants and egg stalls in the capital and other large towns.

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