GoCanvas: Data at our fingertips

The new season started in mid-July with our volunteers perhaps finding a few nests one night, none the nest, a couple of nights with nests, another night without…  But in the past week or two, we’ve seen the activity really increase with our volunteers finding and relocating ten nests just last night.  It’s a good time to remind anyone that’s interested to check out our adopt-a-nest program.

Portion of the GoCanvas Patrol App.

Adding to the excitement of the new season, we are very excited that this will be the first full season with our new data collection system made possible by the good people at  A special shout-out to Ewan, Zach, and Jason at for their efforts on behalf of the camp.

Until mid-way through the 2018-2019 season, we collected all of our data by hand. Pencil and paper.  On the beach, in the dark, in the rain, in the blowing wind. For each patrol event, we are required to collect the GPS coordinates and other details that vary depending on the situation. This meant that at least one volunteer had to have a smart phone with a GPS app for coordinates. We would look up the coordinates, then write them down on a log sheet. Later another volunteer would type them into a spreadsheet along with the rest of the information (species, date, time, # of eggs, whether we saw a live turtle, tag numbers if we tagged her, measurements, etc.).  The handwriting was often hard to read, and coordinates were inconsistent because different Apps reported them in different formats.  Paper sheets got wet and were sometimes torn or had smeared writing. We did our best and reported good data to the various governmental and advocacy organizations, but….

Google map with details of each patrol entry.

There had to a better way, didn’t there?

So, the search began for an app we could all install on our mobile phones that would allow us to type the data in as we went.  Our search found the GoCanvas application which would enable us to design our own forms (collecting data we defined) and it even included a built in way to capture GPS coordinates and photos.  As much as it seemed like a perfect fit, as a non-profit, we were pretty sure we would not be able to afford the cost of a sophisticated application like GoCanvas.  But, it couldn’t hurt to ask, right?

Section of our corral chart showing the details of each nest in its’ location in the corral.

The response from GoCanvas was fast and it was positive.  While the typical organization using their platform is nothing like us, they did actually have some relevant experience from working with an anti-poaching group in Africa that uses their GoCanvas to collect data for the purpose of protecting and sustaining the local Rhino population.   Best of all, they were willing to work with us and because of their extreme generosity, we were able to begin experimenting with GoCanvas immediately.  Within a few weeks, we were using it on patrols instead of the paper log.

Sample section of our Due To Hatch report showing cronological list of nests listed by expected hatch date.
Sample of Monthly Summary Report.

The next step was to automate the gathering of the remaining nest related data.  For that, we used the GoCanvas platform again to create Apps that would allow the patrol volunteers to record the location of the nest in the corral.  With that location data, we now have the ability to quickly and easily see what nest locations in the corral are due to hatch.   This allows us to pay special attention to them and then record the date when the first hatchlings emerge.  With the first hatch date now easily available, we can quickly clean out the nests when it’s time.  It is critical to do the cleanout in a timely way because sometimes live hatchlings are stuck in the broken shells of other hatchlings and need a helping hand to emerge.  By closely tracking our first hatch date, we can intervene with the cleanout at the optimal time – before it’s too late while also not being too early.

Now, with all this data available through GoCanvas, the final piece was to tie it together and we’re fortunate to have some volunteers with computer experience that could do that.  Using a custom written computer program, we are now able to run a process each day that pulls patrol, corral location, first hatch, and cleanout data from the GoCanvas “cloud” and compile it into a single set of data for each nest.

This form in our custom system downloads GoCanvas cloud data and compiles it into our various output web pages, reports, and spreadsheets.

The daily process also generates a Google map that shows each patrol log entry including nests with eggs, poached nests, nests eaten by dogs, locations of dead or stolen turtles, places where turtles came out but didn’t lay eggs or dropped their eggs too close to the ocean where they were washed out, and other exceptions we encounter.

This data goes into several reports and web pages we generate to manage things at the camp and also into the format we’re required to use to do our external reporting.

With this data at our fingertips, the possibilities are endless in terms of what we can analyze and measure.  Where is the poaching happening and when.  How about places where dogs are eating nests?  How long are nests taking to hatch now when the sand is moist but the temperatures high versus later in the season when the sand is dry but the temperatures are cooler?  This data also makes it possible for us to have started our Adopt-a-Nest program which involves taking photos for our adopters during the patrol, first hatch, and release.

With GoCanvas making our data collection process so much easier, we can actually look forward to doing our reports at the end of the season because really, it’s already done. The reporting will be a breeze. No more piles of paper, no more trying to read the log sheets that are sandy, torn, and smeared, no more chicken scratch handwriting, and best of all no more typing into a spreadsheet.

This form in our custom program helps us keep track of our Adopt-A-Nest information so that we can be sure to communicate in timely way with our nest adopters.

Thank you again to GoCanvas for the generosity and willingness to help us be better at what we do.  Thank you GoCanvas for your support  Come see us sometime and checkout your system in action!

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