Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

In this upcoming series of blogs, I’d like to introduce some of the incredible naturalists who work for our organization and explore their passions and experiences that led them to Pacific Whale Foundation.

Meet Maddie Buresh. This red-headed force of nature has been passionate about animals and biology since childhood. I asked her a few questions about how she got her start and what motivates her on a day-to-day basis. Check out our conversation!

1) When did you first realize you wanted to be involved with marine conservation?

I wanted to be a veterinarian since kindergarten, and it was only when I switched my college major from biology to marine vertebrate biology that I realized that I wanted to pursue that instead. No classes had ever made me feel that passionate about a subject or so driven to go and share what I learned.

2) What is your favorite part of being a Marine Naturalist?

The keiki. I love working with the kids. They’re just so enthusiastic and excited about the smallest things. You teach them, and they teach you too.

3) What’s one of the coolest experiences you’ve had out on the water?

There are so many amazing moments, but the coolest one was during a Sunset Cocktail Cruise, when a mother humpback whale and her calf came mere feet from our boat’s swim step.

4) How do you spend your free time on Maui when you’re not out saving our oceans through science and advocacy?

I like to spend time journaling and drawing in coffee shops, and I like to be outside. I also really love hanging out with my friends and their three little children.

5) What’s one thing folks may not know about being a Marine Naturalist?

We’re often in the spotlight as boat crew and educators, and many people probably think that is all that we do. But there is a lot that happens behind the scenes. As a PWF naturalist, a day’s work may require me to be a lifeguard, a research assistant, a wildlife interpreter, a cocktail server, a maintenance assistant, and a free diver to name a few. We have a lot of job descriptions wrapped up together, and a lot of responsibility –  but we also have amazing jobs.

6) You’re headed to Australia soon! Can you tell us what you’ll be doing down there and what you’re most excited/nervous about?

Pacific Whale Foundation is operating Hervey Bay Ultimate Whalewatches in Australia this summer – which is their winter. I’ll be playing a few different roles, from whalewatch naturalist, to research assistant, to office worker and retail staff. There is one word that can sum up both what makes me nervous and what excites me: CHANGE! It will definitely take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me, but I’m definitely looking forward to the whole experience and the growth that will come from it.

7) If there’s just one conservation message you’d like to leave folks with, what would it be?

If we let them, environmental issues can really get us down. But what would it look like if everyone in the world just did something as seemingly small as picking up one piece of trash a day? That would be over 7 billion pieces of trash. Let’s reflect on the negative things only as much as it takes to learn from them how we can make changes and work toward more sustainable lifestyles and a healthier planet.

Isn’t Maddie awesome? We think so too! Stay tuned for more features on our other naturalists. If you have any questions for us, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Sea Turtles of Isla De La Plata

Sea turtles are one of the main attractions of the Isla De La Plata tour. Hundreds of tourists look forward to arriving at Drake Bay to watch turtles gather around the boat giving them one of the most amazing spectacles of their lives. Some rush to submerge their GoPros in the water in hope of catching an underwater glimpse of this ancient creature of the sea, while others prefer to take pictures them from the top of the vessel to get a wider perspective.

However, it was not always like this. Only 5 years ago, sea turtles were rarely seen at Drake Bay, Isla De La Plata. So what was caused this increase in sea turtle numbers in such a short time?

For year, captains from Isla De La Plata vessels would rush straight to the island and barely slow down until they reached Drake Bay. If they were asked by tourists or guides to slow down because of potential collisions with sea turtles, they would respond with “sorry, we need to arrive as soon as possible”. Captains did not much care about the sea turtles, as they were not tourist attractions and slowing down was considered a waste of their time. Luckily for the turtles, this was about to change in a drastic way.

 

Machalilla National Park hired a new manager, who ordered the park rangers to be alert of speeding vessels near Isla De La Plata and to enforce speed limits that had long been in place. The fining of a single vessel is all it took to begin to see a change in vessels navigating these waters.

At first, captains were a little reluctant to abide by the enforced regulations, but with time and the increasing numbers of sea turtles catching the tourists’ attention, they themselves started to sympathize with this wonderful animal.

Today, sea turtles can be easily be found in big aggregations around Isla De La Plata. The population seems to be thriving and the turtles have become a major feature in Isla La Plata tours. Sea turtles have not only stolen our hearts, but also those of the boat captains, who once did not care about them at all. Now when a captain is asked to hurry to the island they respond with: “no, the turtles need us to slow down to ensure their safety”.

Las Tortugas Marinas En La Isla De La Plata

Las tortugas marinas son una de las atracciones principales del tour a la Isla de la Plata, y cada año cientos de turistas esperan al momento de verlas rodear el bote y darles uno de los más increíbles espectáculos de sus vidas cuando llegan a Bahía Drake. Algunos se apresuran a sumergir sus Gopros en el agua con la esperanza de vislumbrar bajo el agua a estas criaturas ancestrales del mar, mientras otros prefieren tomarles fotografías desde la parte superior del bote para obtener una amplia imagen de su presencia.

Sin embargo, no siemprefue así. Hace solo 5 años atrás, pocas eran las tortugas que se podían observar en la Isla, y el tour a la isla no era promovido con la idea de observar tortugas. ¿Entonces, que cambio en tan poco tiempo? Hace tan solo 5 años, los capitanes de las embarcaciones que iban a la Isla iban tan apurados por ganarle a los demás botes y terminar el tour rápido que apenas disminuían la velocidad hasta llegar a Bahía Drake. Si algún turista o guía les pedían que bajen la velocidad para no chocarse contra tortugas marinas, ellos se molestaban y simplemente decían: “¡que tortugas ni que tortugas!, debemos llegar rápido a la isla”. A ellos no les importaban las tortugas marinas: ellas no eran atracciones turísticas y solo les hacían perder el tiempo al tener que bajar la velocidad. Afortunadamente, esto estaba a punto de cambiar…

Al Parque Nacional Machalilla llego un nuevo jefe de área, quien ordeno a todos los guardaparques que estén alerta de botes que no acaten la ley de bajar la velocidad cerca de la isla de la Plata, y de aplicar medidas estrictas a las embarcaciones que no cumplieran con esta regulación (que ya existía, pero que nadie obedecia). Tan solo basto una multa y demanda a una de las embarcaciones para que todo cambiara….y para recuperar a nuestra población de tortugas marinas en la Isla de la Plata.

Al principio, los capitanes estaban renuentes a acatar esta disposición, pero con tiempo y el incremento de observación de tortugas en la Isla de la Plata que atraían a los turistas, ellos mismos empezaron a simpatizar con estos hermosos animales, e incluso empezaron a alimentarlas con lechuga y frutas, para de alguna manera atraer a las pocas tortugas que aun había en ese entonces en la Isla, y que al mismo tiempo estas entretengan al turista.

En la actualidad, las tortugas marinas pueden ser encontradas fácilmente en grandes agregaciones en Bahia Drake. La población esta totalmente recuperada y se ha convertido en una importante parte del tour a la Isla de la Plata! Estos hermosos reptiles no solo se han robado nuestros corazones, sino también los corazones de los capitanes de los botes de turismo, a quienes antes no les importaban. Ellos ahora verdaderamente las aprecian mucho, hasta el punto que, cuando les dicen que se apuren para llegar rápido a la isla, ellos mismos responden: “No, las tortugas necesitan que bajemos la velocidad para estar a salvo”.

PWF Ecuador Hosts Training for Tour Operators

Under the coordination of the Ministry of Environment and Machalilla National Park, Pacific Whale Foundation Ecuador provided a free training during the months of August through early September. The gathering was a unique opportunity for Puerto López residents to learn from National Park representatives. Specifically directed towards those in constant interaction with whales, the training was attended by park rangers, guides, and captains of Machalilla National Park.

Collectively, the training brought together about 90 people including both veteran guides with many years of experience and new ones who will help with future protection. We were delighted to have the talkative guides with all their questions and even the silent captains who needed teambuilding games to loosen their tongues a little!

Participants received valuable information in the format of three different presentations. The talks covered topics such as correct boat practices in the presence of whales, and we were also able to share whalewatching statistics as well as our recent research findings. Pacific Whale Foundation’s Cristina Castro, Ph.D., Researcher Director of Ecuador, presented information regarding a whale that was photo-identified in Ecuador and a couple of years later was also identified in South Sandwich Island, a migratory distance of approximately 10,000km. Attendees were fascinated by this topic and expressed a great interest to learn more.

It is opportunities like these that encourage us in our 18 consecutive years of research, conservation, and education. We are committed to training and educating the residents of Puerto Lopez, following through and moving forward with research, and above all, sharing everything we know to protect and conserve humpback whales in our beloved Ecuador.

Promising partnership in Guatemala

Whalewatching continues to grow globally with new markets emerging. Guatemala is the latest country seeking to develop whale watch operations off its Pacific coast focusing on the annual migration of humpback whales that migrate through their waters December through June. The humpbacks are thought to be en route to/from their breeding and calving grounds off Costa Rica, and likely spend their summer months feeding near central California northward to BC, Canada.

Greg Kaufman, founder of Pacific Whale Foundation recently traveled to the small coastal community of Montericco, Guatemala — best known for its 20km- long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove wetlands — to speak with tour operators about whalewatching and learn first-hand their challenges and whale observations.

The department of tourism, INGUAT, reached out to Kaufman for advice on this new developing industry. They stressed the importance of wanting to take a scientific approach to cultivate sustainable tourism in the area. Kaufman shared his thoughts on regulation and responsible practices.

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Preparing for a long journey home

Ocean Spirit looked elegant and vibrant like a racehorse ready to go, as crew members tend to last minute tests and system checks. Five crew members will set sail on a 5880.85 mile journey, from St. Croix, USVI to Maui, HI. Ocean Spirit, will be the ninth vessel of Pacific Whale Foundation’s eco fleet.

PWF’s Founder Greg Kaufman, joined our Eco Team on sea trials from Salt River Bay, St. Croix. Sails were drawn and she proved to be strong as well as fast, reaching a top speed of 21.9 knots! Final preparations will continue this week for scheduled departure on November 1, weather permitting. Stay tuned as will will report and track Ocean Spirit’s journey along the way.

Field Report From Ecuador

The small coastal village of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador kicked off the whale season with A colorful celebration of El Festival de las Ballenas, honoring a   sixteen year tradition of colorful dance, song and culture. This annual event brings community, local politicians and various organizations together to celebrate the presence of the Humpback Whales.

The whale festival also marks the official launch of the whalewatch season and what locals call a “prosperous time”. From  the first whalewatching tours some fifteen years ago this quiet community has benefited from steady economic growth.