Turtle Mama, Karen Hattingh, also known as Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program (GTCP) Project Manager, has finally arrived! Of course before her arrival, we did a little sweeping and mopping, you know, just some small clean ups to impress our boss. I’ll never forget the moment I first saw Karen. I’m not sure if I was more surprised by her height or the most cheery smile and warmest hug that she gave each and every one of us. After a quick introduction, she joined us for a morning tea and coffee during which she described her motives for the GTCP. Her energy, passion and love for this project left most of us teary eyed as we sat in awe unable to resist starring at one of the most incredible women before us. If we weren’t already motivated enough to make this season the most successful year that the program has had, then after speaking with Karen, we sure were. Before us was a woman, who put her heart and soul into making this project one of the best in the nation, whilst loving every second of it. She made each of us believe that we could find a similar passion in life and like her, enjoy going to work everyday. Karen probably only spoke for a little under half an hour, but within that time she was able to teach life lessons, increase our motivation and make us love her. Just moments after she left our kitchen, I knew that she would be one of the few individuals that would forever stand out in our minds.
We spent the following nine days running back and forth between our turtle lodge and her cabin discussing our individual portions of the project while getting more and more tasks thrown our way. Some would have been overwhelmed by the amount of work, but we were thrilled to be working on something that was so much bigger than ourselves. Of course, there were also some days when we left our computers and project manuals at home and headed into the sunshine to explore various areas of the station. We went snorkeling at Gnaraloo Bay, which is one of Karen’s two favorite activities, especially when it doesn’t involve freezing to death. The turtle team also headed north to explore Cape Farquhar, where she taught us about the procedures for surveying that we would each be doing twice for four days. We also spent some time learning the various animal tracks from Animal Pest Control expert, Mike Butcher. Karen was able to make each of these learning experiences feel as though we were just out having a jolly old time.
To put it simply, Karen is one of the most loving, caring, interesting, and greatest individuals many of us will ever meet. She can easily walk into a room and draw everyone to her side with her friendly stature and amazing personality. Saying bye to her during our final meeting was definitely not easy, but knowing that she will be back again to spend a whole 21 days with her turtle fans is very exciting. Till then, constant phone calls and emails will have to do. Hope she doesn’t mind me calling just to chat!