Volunteer to help revitalize Cayo Santiago (Monkey Island) / Oportunidad de voluntariado para reconstruir Cayo Santiago

Imagen de Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer


3Rs for the CPRC/Project Monkey Island

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall near Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico, devastating this small town and Cayo Santiago, a 38-acre island that has been the home to a free-ranging research colony of Indian-origin rhesus monkeys since 1938.  Shortly after, a group of us got together to try to figure out a way to help our friends (human and nonhuman primate) and colleagues in the area. 3Rs for the CPRC was born and quickly morphed into Project Monkey Island.  We have now made three extremely successful trips to Puerto Rico (see www.projectmonkeyisland.org) to  help revitalize Cayo Santiago and Punta Santiago (December 26, 2017 – January 4, 2018, April 21-28, 2018, June 30 – July 8, 2018).  I am in the process of planning the fourth 3Rs for the CPRC/Project Monkey Island trip, scheduled for January 2-12, 2019.  I realize that this is a holiday period, and therefore, may be more difficult for some of you.  However, this is a time that our Puerto Rican colleagues have indicated will work for them, which is a critical consideration.  You don’t have to stay for the whole period.  So, before I go into more detail about the upcoming trip, please just email me back if there is at least a 50% chance that you are interested in participating.  If there is at least a 50% chance, please also let me know whether there is a 75% chance or a 95% chance that you can go.  This is how we did it the last couple of times and it worked out really well.

Please note that while the first three trips were successful and we accomplished a considerable number of things, there is still much, much more that needs to be done.  We will continue to clean up Cayo Santiago and will hopefully begin building a few structures there (water collection systems, corrals, etc.) and planting trees to reforest the island.  We will also continue work to repair the CPRC office and various houses, schools, and other structures in Punta Santiago.  I have kept this email short.  I can provide considerably more detail to those who request it.  As we continue these efforts, Project Monkey Island will serve as a template and proof of concept for Primatologists Without Borders, an entity we have created within the International Primatological Society to provide intermediate- and long-term relief to facilities and communities associated with nonhuman primates that have been affected by natural disasters.  We are in the process of determining what Primatologists Without Borders can do over the next several months to help in Sulawesi, site of the recent earthquake and tsunami.  Thank you.

For those of you who are new to the 3Rs for the CPRC/Project Monkey Island missions, here is a bit of logistical information for the upcoming visit (January 2-12, 2019).  You can stay for all or part of the time, whatever you can manage.  


We are all responsible for our own airfare to Puerto Rico.  While in Puerto Rico, we typically rent cars to get us to and from the airport and our accommodations, and from our accommodations to Punta Santiago where we are working.  We usually try to find 4 people who want to share the cost of a vehicle rental (one of us usually pretends to be the renter’s spouse, so that we can drive, as well as the renter).  We don’t put much mileage on the vehicles, but it is important for us to have transportation flexibility in PR.


I will be renting the same Big House (8-bedroom, 8.5 bath, 8000 ft2 with 3 kitchens, pool, hot tub, etc., etc.) that we rented the last two times.  It will probably cost about $220/night (it is high season in Humacao, so it is more expensive) or so for a room (4 rooms have a king bed, 2 have a queen, 1 has two queens, and one has 2 bunkbeds; the $220/night would be divided by the number of people staying in the room).  There are also between 4 and 6 couches in the house that are fine for sleeping (couch people would be charged less than room people, but I don’t have a feel for the amount yet).  I have also asked the owner to supply some air mattresses in the rooms with just a king bed, so we should be able to get a few more people in those rooms.  This means that we can accommodate up to 25 people in the Big House.  If the group gets bigger than 25, I will try to rent a house nearby (4 bedrooms) as well.


We will arrange for breakfast ($6 per person/day) each morning and lunch ($10 including tax and tip per person/day) in Punta Santiago.  This worked really well the last few times and allowed us to spend our money in Punta.  We cook dinner communally in the Big House each night and clean up communally as well.  Everyone ended up contributing between $60 and $75 each for all dinners and snacks for the week, so figure on about $30/day for food total ($6 for breakfast + $10 for lunch + $14 for dinner, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks).  If you were drinking alcohol, you ponied up another $25 for a week.  We had several gluten-free people, some vegetarians, a fruit allergy person, and a shellfish allergy person, and it seemed like everyone got enough to eat.


There are two components to the work that we do; 1) work on Cayo and 2) work in Punta Santiago.  To work on Cayo, you must be over 18 years of age and have proof of immunity to measles, proof of a negative TB test within 6 months of the last day of your trip to PR, and a recent tetanus shot.  You do not need any health information to work in Punta, and you will be fine if you are over 12 years of age.

On Cayo, we have removed most of the debris during previous trips, so we are likely to have a little bit less to do than previously on the island.  Additionally, we will be on Cayo at the same time that a real contracting crew is scheduled to be building a new corral.  Therefore, there may not be many Cayo staff members to work with us on our tasks.  We will play this by ear.  At the moment, it appears that most of our Cayo work will revolve around planting, protecting, and/or tending new vegetation (mangroves, tree, shrubs, etc.) that will have been planted prior to our arrival.  We may also be involved in the site work and some other aspects of the desalination plant that Project Monkey Island purchased this week. 

In Punta Santiago, we will continue our repairs to several of the homes in the area.  In the past, we have cleaned, prepped, painted, remodeled, wired, roofed, walled, floored, etc. a number of homes, playgrounds, and school facilities.  Hopefully, we will be able to put the finishing touches on Don Alfonso’s ceiling this trip.  Additional major foci in Punta for this trip will be the rebuilding of two houses for the owners of Daniel Seafood Restaurant and providing Gloria with a functioning kitchen.    

No special construction skills are necessary, but if you have done something before or are good at something relevant, please let me know.  You might even discover that you can do something that you didn’t think you could, and more importantly, might find out that you really like to do it (nail guns are awesome, I’ve heard).  Please know that we will emphasize SAFETY FIRST, so if you see me with a power tool in my hand, please ask me kindly, yet sternly, to “step away from the circular saw”.  If you feel an intervention is necessary, you can gather some of the others and say “Steve, your power tool behavior has affected me in the following ways…” 


It is going to be hot, and once again SAFETY comes FIRST, so floppy hats, proper clothing, sunscreen, fluids, etc., etc. are going to be critical to this mission.  We will all be looking out for one another, so please listen to your colleagues if they say you are getting burned or look too hot, etc.  


More information:  www.projectmonkeyisland.org or contact Dr. Steve Schapiro sschapir@mdanderson.org