The Best Conservationists Are Often Former Hunters
Hector Maldonado is known throughout his hometown of Juluchuca as a man who loves turtles. That was not always the case, as he was once jailed for poaching turtle eggs. These days, he spends his time protecting them instead. Hector serves as President of La Tortuga Viva, where he manages a team of fourteen volunteers who patrol the beaches collecting nests buried in the sand, and keeping the eggs safe within a protected incubation pen for 45-60 days until they hatch and the baby turtles are safely released into the ocean. Hector often personally works around the clock to make sure the sanctuary is running up to speed. He is now a leader in his community, playing a crucial role in protecting the turtle species that nest at Playa Viva.
Like the other members of the sanctuary, Hector works as a volunteer, receiving a monthly food basket for his time. But it’s no easy job taking care of a hatchery and managing a team of fourteen volunteers:
“I come in almost every afternoon to see if nests need to be cleaned out or if a tejon (badger) has gotten into the camp. I hold meetings with the guys and always try to make sure we are working as a team, that we are saving turtles and keeping the sanctuary protected. Sometimes it’s really hard!”
In addition to the day-to-day work at the camp, Hector also organizes and leads night patrols to collect nests, helps with construction and maintenance, oversees the government permit process, and still finds time to come to Playa Viva to interact with guests about the importance of La Tortuga Viva. It is clear that sea turtle conservation is often a full-time job. When asked why he does it, he says it’s simple – it’s a labor of love:
“I love doing this. I love saving nests, searching for Leatherbacks, and seeing the turtles released. When I was young, I wanted to study to become an ecologist. I didn’t have the resources to achieve that, but I still feel I am making an impact.”
From everyone here at Playa Viva, we are so grateful for the work that Hector does for our community and for the turtles that nest on our beach. His transformation from poacher to conservationist reminds us all that change is possible when we each do our part.
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