We stayed at Punta San Juan for three days and in that time I learned so much about the guano harvest and the residence of the fur seals, seals, and penguins. Susana Cardenas introduced to us Ivan Balbin who is the guano harvest campaign manager. He oversees all the volunteer workers as they collect and package the mounds of guano poop to be sold as fertilizer. He explained to us the process of harvesting the guano and what the works do while on the reserve. The guano poop that is harvested is sieved put into two different bags, one weights about 70 kilos and the other is 50 kilos. We got a chance to try and pick up a half full 70 kilos bag and I could barely just lift it off the ground. It’s amazing that these workers carry these bags all day long on their shoulders. They don’t just harvest the guano poop but also get a census of the seal and penguin colonies and pick up trash. It’s important that their campsite and workplace aren’t near the guano, they won’t want to disturb them because its the start of breeding. At this moment the guano are finding suitable nesting areas.
Guano poop is a national demand for agricultural industries because of the easy access and because it’s cheap. The government will distribute it to companies that have lost most of their crops in order to compensate for the cost. One of the many conflicts the reserve faces is the high demand that guano poop should be harvested each year. This is not enough time for the guano to produce the right amount, it usually takes around 6 years to have enough. In that time period, the companies should be rotating from islands or peninsulas to collect harvested guano poop. Exporting guano poop internationally requires a great deal of effort and collaboration from the government and the Peruvian people, this means that it is politically challenging to keep the regulations in place.
During my stay I learned a great deal about the different kinds of guano birds such as the Booby, Pelicans, and Cormorant. It was absolutely amazing to see the sheer numbers of guano in the distance, there had to be hundreds of thousands all group to make one huge blob. I really have never seen anything quiet like it before. We also learned about the seals, fur seals, and penguins such as the Humboldt. It was my second time in my life that I got to see these creatures in the wild, the first was when we visited the Ballasta Islands in Paracus. Susana and Marcus, one of the workers, explained about their characteristics, habits, and the breeding season. I’ll never forget the wonderful time I got to spend so close to these funny animals.
I believe that this educational experience should be extended to the neighboring communities, however, the Punta San Juan reserve is protected by a wall. This prevents any sort of working relationship between the reserve and outside communities. It isn’t possible for them to learn and have a better understanding of the guano harvest and the seals/penguins. Susana did mention there are tours for people to come and learn like we’ve done but I can only see this as a temporarily solution. If there is a way to not have the wall there anymore and have regulations of poaching or illegal harvesting, then I believe that will help create a better relationship.