In February 2015 I came to Brazil to work at a marine wildlife rescue centre, Gremar, that my dear friend, Rosane Farah, works at. Rosane and I met in South Africa whilst volunteering at SANCCOB saves seabirds, a marine seabird rescue centre based in Cape Town.
Rosane is fellow biologist from Brazil; she is a beautiful person inside and out and one of my most treasured friends. She shares the same dreams as mine of helping to protect the planet.
When Rosane invited me to Brazil, to come and work at Gremar I never imagined how much it would influence my life. I will be forever grateful for the journey she set me on.
I have learnt so much, met some incredible people, worked with amazing wildlife, had awesome experiences and for some reason, being in Brazil feels like I am exactly where I am meant to be.
It was my first time in South America and with a little uncertainty of how long I would stay or what would happen, I headed to the southern coast of Brazil to the small city of Guaruja.
When I arrived in Sao Paulo I took the bus down the coast to Santos and waited to be picked up by Rosane from the station. I sat next to a little old Brazilian lady who spoke to me in Portuguese (I could barely string a sentence together in Portuguese) but with the use of sign language and the basic Portuguese I did know, I understood that she was very concerned I was travelling alone and even more concerned about how white I was! She offered me her sunscreen to ensure I didn’t burn and she was happy when Rosane arrived to pick me up.
It was pretty lovely and the first of many sweet encounters I have had with Brazilians since I have been here.
I began work the next day at Gremar, alongside the staff and volunteers.
It was a small team, I was the only none Brazilian and most of the time I had no idea what anyone was saying! Even when I did attempt to speak a little Portuguese I think I managed to confuse matters even more!
It didn’t matter though, once I began work, with guidance from the lovely staff and volunteers I soon figured out the routine and I was happy caring for a range of wildlife from dolphins and seals to various seabirds and sea turtles.
I had never worked with rehabilitating sea turtles before, so I was looking forward to learning all I could and to be a little part of helping to give them a second chance in life.
There are 7 different species of sea turtles throughout the world, 5 of which can be found in Brazil.
The Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the species that are mostly found around the southern coasts of Brazil and Gremar rescues, rehabilitates and releases them along the south east coast.
Green sea turtles are classed as an endangered species under the IUCN red list and are at threat of extinction for a number of reasons including habitat loss, pollution and by-catch in marine fisheries.
However, one if the most common issues that they face throughout the world is plastic pollution. Plastic is seen in so much of the marine environment these days and the impacts it has on all marine life is heartbreaking.
Sea turtles will ingest the various parts of plastic whilst feeding and this will then become stuck within their digestive system.
Over time this plastic will cause major problems for them and will eventually lead to a long, slow and painful death.
In this situation most are found washed up on beaches, stranded or caught up in fishing lines. They are rescued and brought to the Gremar rescue centre where they receive treatment from the veterinary team, and continued care from the staff and volunteers until they are ready to head back into the wild.
Some of the turtles that come into Gremar are in such a bad way. They are malnourished, emaciated, weak, dehydrated, and quietly suffering from various injuries.
The plastic they ingest will end up preventing their digestive system from working, resulting in them not being able to eat. This leads them to slowly starve to death, truly a horrendous way to die.
If lucky enough to be found they will sometimes be able to be saved. Veterinary teams may operate and remove the plastic, fishing hooks, wires and other various trashes from their system and they might make full recoveries.
For a great deal of others though, they will not be so lucky.
Even with all the will in the world and experts working to treat them, sometimes the damage is too far-gone and they will not survive.
Green Sea turtles are herbivores and will graze amongst the sea grass beds feeding on the sea grass and algae.
They will pick up anything from tiny plastic water bottle caps, clothing tags, washing up gloves, to plastic bags, kids small toys, even false nails!
I have seen first hand how much the natural world suffers due to human behaviours. It is always so heartbreaking to see the impact that the human race has on nature, especially when we know that it is so unnecessary and avoidable. It never gets easier to see the suffering.
However, I believe that to work in conservation you have to have a little hope within you for a better future. Hope that we can make a difference and we can create a better way. We believe its not too late…
I have that belief. I wont stop trying and caring and striving for a better world.
However, I am human and some days it can be hard to see the light. To see and understand why there is so much suffering and why we allow it to continue.
The day I posted on my facebook page about a young sea turtle that died at Gremar due to plastic blocking her entire digestive system, from her throat through to her intestines. This was a day I had lost a little faith and hope…
After I uploaded the post I did actually think that no one would show an interest as it wasn’t a happy story and sometimes it is easier to not take notice.
When I saw a few friends liked it and commented about how sad it was and basically showed that they cared, I thought it was amazing. This was enough to give a little hope back.
The next thing I knew it had gone viral and was being shared all over the world. People were outraged and saddened to see the reality of how this little sea turtle had suffered.
I couldn’t believe it. The staff and volunteers at Gremar work with this everyday. Majority of the turtles that are rescued are suffering from some variation of pollution blocking their systems.
Fishing hooks, plastic EVERYTHING, fishing wires, ropes. Some are successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild but for others, like this little turtle, there is not always a happy ending.
The reality is that some go through unimaginable pain, distress and are helpless. They don’t always survive.
With this one sea turtle though, the universe had listened and had given hope back to those who needed it. It may be a small drop in the ocean but to me, to the team at Gremar, to the sea turtle and all wildlife that suffer, it meant something. It showed that people cared and that ultimately the whole world wants to make a change. We want to stop the suffering, we want to stand up and prevent this from continuing to happen.
Campaigns, newspapers, teachers and other wildlife charities used this turtles tragic story to help raise awareness, to educate, to demonstrate the impacts that plastic has on nature and to help prevent this from continuing to happen.
The young sea turtle didn’t die in vein; it woke up the world and drew awareness to the issues that all marine life face everyday throughout the world.
This experience has led me to create “Wild and Free at Heart”. My dream of building a foundation that will continue to support wildlife conservation projects, create awareness, develop hope for a better future, educate and hopefully connect people with the natural world.
I believe we can all make a difference in our own way, we may not be perfect in all we do, but we can try and do our best, to look after each other, the planet and all those part of it.