April 28, 2008
In the Field - Punta San Juan (4/23/08)
Saludos!! Today we began our journey to Punta San Juan, Peru to continue a health assessment project focused on conserving the endangered Humboldt penguin. I arrived in Lima late last night after a 6 hour flight from Atlanta. Transporting enough equipment for a field project like this can be a challenge, but fortunately we arrived with no lost luggage and only required two taxis to get all our supplies to the hotel.
This morning we met up with our friend Daniel Abugattas, a graduate student in Lima who has helped us during our last two visits. We spent this morning picking up some last minute supplies and loading up our truck. After a long 8 hour ride from Lima, we arrived safely in Punta San Juan (or PSJ as we call it). The drive along the Peruvian coastline takes all day, mostly along the two lane PanAmerican Highway, and is full of beautiful scenery. The coastline of Peru is a very arid climate with large advances of rocky desert. The Andes mountains and cold Pacific Ocean combine to create climate conditions that produce fertile jungles to the east of the mountains and deserts along the Pacific coast. Some of these areas are so dry they may only see a drizzle of rain once every decade! This lack of rainfall is the definition of a desert, not the scalding hot temperatures that we usually associate with deserts in the United State. In fact the temperature here varies seasonally, and since we are visiting in the southern hemisphere’s “fall”, temperatures are fairly cool (60-70 oF) during the day. The ocean in this area is frigid (40-50 oF), with some of the coldest upwelling systems of the entire Pacific coast. The cold water is due to the Humboldt current which brings cold water northward all the way from Antartica. Aside from giving the Humboldt penguin its name, this current supports a very rich ecosystem of wildlife. The base of the food chain is the Anchoveta (Engraulis ringens), an abundant small pelagic fish. The plankton in the cold water provides the anchovetas with a source of food, which in turn supports enormous populations of seals, sea lions, penguins, pelicans, cormorants, many other species of seabirds and the largest fishing industry based on one species in the world. This very small fish is not only the source of food for the entire Humboldt ecosystem and species, but is one craved resource for the fishmeal industry, which burns around 8,000,000 tons of it a yearly.
After arriving in PSJ a short while ago, we quickly settled in for the evening. It’s great to see some of our friends. Milena and Marco are two Peruvian biologists that live at the PSJ reserve. They maintain the reserve, do field research on a variety of species, and help coordinate our projects locally. The PSJ reserve has an old building on site, the “guanera”, a remnant from the days of mass harvesting of guano from the shorebirds. The guano industry is an interesting story, but one that will have to wait until tomorrow. After two long days of traveling, one of the most exciting things about seeing the old “guanera” is that we can get some sleep before our first day of fieldwork tomorrow!
Mike Adkesson, DVM
Veterinarian, Saint Louis Zoo – WildCare Institute