For two weeks in November, the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program (GTCP) Field Team had two important visitors – GTCP Project Manager Karen Hattingh and her dog Ziggy. While Simone and Skip had already met Karen in Bunbury prior to the season, this was a great opportunity for the Scientific Interns to put a face to the name and meet the person who has been keeping the GTCP running for 10 years. Karen has rarely had the time and capacity to visit the teams in the field, and we were all excited about meeting her and gaining some insight into what is involved in running a conservation program.
It was hard to tell who was more excited for the visit, Karen, Ziggy, or the dog-loving Scientific Interns who loved having personal entertainment. The main reason for the visit, of course, was work, so we quickly got to it with the first item on the agenda, a practice run for the presentation we were to give to representatives of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) a few days later. Everyone was well prepared, the practice run went without any hitches and I was relieved to have given Karen a good first impression of the GTCP Field Team. Karen spent the next few days inviting everyone to the presentation, and in the end, we had a full house – not just the DBCA representatives, but almost every person that lived and worked at the homestead at that time. It was a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about what we do day in, day out, and what the GTCP has achieved over the previous nine seasons.
Karen’s field visit also involved a lot of meetings – both group workshops and one-on-one discussions. While they gave Karen a better understanding of everyone’s motivations for joining the GTCP and their previous experience, the meetings presented a great opportunity for the Scientific Interns in particular, to get some insight into all the work going on behind the scenes. All of the Field Team’s hard work, sweat and tears necessary to collect accurate data throughout the 4-month survey season translates directly into management decisions. Karen coordinates and manages a spider web of connections and ‘invisible people’ to ensure the continued success of the GTCP. Running a long-term program like the GTCP requires an enormous amount of resources, both financial and personal. Like a puppet master, Karen holds all the strings in her hands, constantly deciding about which ones to pull, which ones to leave, where to put money into, and where to take that money from. And of course, it isn’t helpful at all that Nigel, our trusted turtle car, constantly requires new parts and fixes to keep us going in the field!
Karen’s field visit wasn’t all work though. We also took the opportunity to explore the beautiful underwater world of Gnaraloo Bay where we discovered a tawny nurse shark (Nebrius ferrugineus) sleeping underneath a big table coral, a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) passing some time before trying to nest at night, and lots of different fish.
The two weeks were over in no time and everyone agreed that they were very helpful. The Field Team had the unique opportunity to directly work with the Project Manager and got a better understanding of all the background work required to run a conservation program, while Karen was able to return to Bunbury relaxed, knowing that she had a reliable Field Team onsite.
Written by Dr Simone Bosshard