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”.