Hello everyone, Bienvenidos!
My name is Priscilla Inostroza-Hernandez and I am reporting to you from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. This summer I was accepted into the 2022 Directorate Fellows Program (DFP) working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I was fortunate enough to get a placement with the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office in Puerto Rico, working in the town of Maricao. The title of my project is Red-tailed Boa Assessment within Endangered Species Release Areas.
Before I start talking about my exciting summer in the Caribbean I would like to start by talking a little bit about myself. I am originally from El Paso, TX, and am currently residing in San Marcos, TX, attending Texas State University. I am majoring in Wildlife Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies. Not only is wildlife my degree, but it is my passion. I love the outdoors and anything and everything that deals with conservation, animal behavior, and the impacts humans have on wildlife.
This summer revolved around community outreach, fieldwork, and dissections. A major part of my job entailed handing out flyers and educating the general public and coffee farmers about the invasive Boa constrictor. I posted flyers in bakeries, gas stations, mini markets, and agriculture supply stores. These flyers contained information on how to identify and report sightings of these three species: red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor), reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus), and the Puerto Rican boa (Chilabothrus inornatus). Maricao was chosen for this project because the endangered and endemic Puerto Rican parrot is being released in the Maricao State Forest.
Additionally, completing rapid assessments in the Maricao State Forest was part of my weekly assignments. Along with this was doing stomach content analysis with Dr. Alberto Puente at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. I was also able to plan an event for the community in collaboration with Latino Conservation Week. This event was created to teach the community how to identify and handle invasive snakes. Planning a large event like this was a bit overwhelming, but I learned a lot from it. Seeing the community engaged and excited about science made the hassle of planning it all worth it.
Along with all the amazing opportunities that I had doing my project, I was also able to volunteer and help with other projects around the area. I worked in the town of Cabo Rojo with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources on their recovery project for the endemic and endangered yellow-shouldered blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus). This entailed going waist-deep into mangroves to reach artificial nests of the yellow-shouldered blackbird and documenting what was found on the inside. Another exciting opportunity took place in the home of a scorpion the size of my hand, the tailles whip scorpion (Amblypygi). I hiked down to a cave known as Malano in Lajas, PR. Here, I assisted a graduate student of Dr. Alberto Puente in his research on the endangered Puerto Rican boa. In addition to this, waking up at 5:00 am to walk down the beach and volunteer to do sea turtle surveys was a must for me. Doing these surveys was magical. I was lucky enough to see baby hatchlings of the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). This project was initiated by the Center for Ecological Restoration and Coastal Conservation Marine Life of the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla (UPR-Aguadilla).
As you can see, I experienced quite a lot in my 11 weeks in Puerto Rico. I took advantage of all the opportunities I could find that would help me grow not only as a biologist, but as a person. I learned so much from a culture that sounds like mine, but is completely different. I like to think that I left a very important mark in Puerto Rico. The project I was hired to work on made me realize the importance of community engagement. Without having engaging opportunities for the public to participate in, scientists could only do so much. Educating communities about the importance of conservation and wildlife is a must, especially in a place with so much biodiversity.
I had such a beautiful experience working with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service as a DFP. I cannot wait for all the exciting things that are in store for me with the service. Thank you to everyone that gave me their support throughout my 11-week stay in the Caribbean.
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP
Location: Ecological Services Marianas Field Office