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Turtle Conservation (Caribbean Coast)
Travel to the stunning Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica to work with a team helping to save endangered sea turtles. Enjoy pristine beaches, collect eggs on the beach, work in hatchery and rescue center, and in your free time play beach volleyball or soccer, swim or snorkel.
Millions of sea turtles return annually to Costa Rican beaches to nest. Our volunteer project sites are chosen due to the influx of turtles to these areas. The nesting season for the different species of sea turtles varies but there is plenty of work all year, including research work, which needs to be conducted to collect vital information on sea turtles. The project mainly works with endangered Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. Volunteers will patrol beaches and nesting sites and help protect turtles and eggs from poaching. Volunteers also gather valuable research information.
Enroll now or contact us for more information and be part of this amazing project saving endangered species from extinction.
No specific skills, qualifications or experiences are required but volunteers must be able to understand basic Spanish and swim. Volunteers must also be able to live in a rustic environment that is hot and wet. The area is known for breathtaking beauty though and the beaches are pristine. You must also be 18 or above, and if you are underage, you will need your parents’ permission to volunteer, or have them accompany you.
Volunteers must also be physical fit, as you have to walk long distances, boat and lift eggs and other things. The project won’t tolerant consumption of any illegal drugs or alcohol. Volunteers are expected to dispose cigarette butts at a disposable bin. Volunteers must also have personal insurance without which you won’t be allowed to volunteer.
Volunteers will work with 3 sea turtles: leatherback, hawksbill and green sea turtles. They are either endangered or critically endangered. There are varieties of jobs the volunteers can do. They are:
Beach Patrol – starts at night and is 4 hours long. One shift starts at 12 and the other 4. Volunteers will usually patrol the beach in a group and you will work with your team leader who will guide you along. You will collect eggs and take biometric tests on turtles.
Hatchery – the eggs are safer if they are hatched in the hatchery. They won’t be poached, they will remain in the right temperature and live on the beach there won’t be any risk of flooding. There is a hatchery very close to the beach. Shifts in hatchery are usually 6 hours long and start either at 6 or 12. Work includes monitoring air temperature, rain gauge, keeping data and caring for the eggs until they are hatched. When you see a hatching, dig the sand to help the hatchling but do not touch. Once they emerge, take their measurements and release them. You will also clean the hatchery and the equipment there.
Beach Cleaning – Clean the beach of debris and other garbage. It is essential to keep the beach clean for the turtles to keep coming offshore to lay eggs. The cleaning is done twice in a week.
Rescue Center – Work with turtles injured or sick. You will feed the turtles, change water in the water tank and you will also learn to conduct an assessment of turtle’s health.
The turtle conservation project is based in Pacuare, close to Limon. All volunteers will stay in a cabin with bunk beds. Accommodation will be clean, safe but very rustic and won’t have electricity. The dining room area will have light from solar panels. Volunteers will enjoy 3 local meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) each day at the project.
Throughout the volunteer project, our local staff will stay in contact with volunteers either through face-to-face visits or via email/telephone. With longer placements, we visit our volunteers every two weeks (when possible) and volunteers are always welcome at the local office. If project placement is local, we request that volunteers stop by the office once a week to keep us posted on how they are doing with their home stay and project. If project placement is very far, then our local staff members maintain communication by either email and/or phone.
Leatherback, Hawksbill And Black Sea Turtles
In the area around Pacuare, the sea turtles that come offshore to lay eggs are usually Leatherback, Hawksbill and Black. Volunteers will mostly work with these sea turtles. The Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles on Earth and can grow up to two meters and exceed 900 kilograms. They are thought to have swam in the ocean for over 100 million years. Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world. The hawksbills grow up to about 45 inches in shell length and 150 pounds in weight. While young, their upper shell is heart-shaped and as they mature, it elongates. The upper shells are also serrated and have overlapping thick bony plates. Their tapered heads end in a sharp point resembling a bird’s beak, hence their name. Male hawksbills have longer claws, thicker tails and somewhat brighter coloring than females. Hawksbills are critically endangered today.
The Black sea turtles have black upper shells that are dramatically teardrop-shaped. They weigh in around 220 pounds and measure up to 39 inches. There are about 5-10 thousand Black sea turtles in the ocean and are listed as endangered. Offshore poaching with shark gill nets and incidental capture in shrimp trawls are the main factors contributing to the turtle’s decline.
While in the project, always use red lights while on patrol in nesting beaches. Only during an emergency and when encountering poachers are, you allowed to switch on other lights. You must not shine any light on the face of the turtle or walk in front of it. Never use insect repellent when working with the turtles or eggs. Handle eggs as gently as possible. Dispose food from the hatchery otherwise it can attract ants. While on night patrol, follow the instruction of your group leader.
Due to the remote location of the project, volunteers must come prepared for the project, as it is located in a remote location.
Recommended clothes you need to bring are:
- Clothes that light and dry out quickly. Denims are not recommended.
- Socks & underwear
- Sunglasses and swimsuit
Other equipment you need to bring are:
- Good hiking shoes and sandals
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Bottle of water
- Sun block lotion
- Mosquito net
- Insect repellent
- Cameras and other personal equipment
Please provide a typical day schedule for this project.
The Caribbean site is typically night work, patrolling the beach for nesting turtles with several shifts available.
The Osa Peninsula project is an in-water project, going out on the boat during the day and checking on the turtles in the water. The time would depend on the day.
Where do I stay? How far is the project from the accommodation? How do I commute every day? Where would I be placed? Where is the project located?
The Caribbean site in North Limon has volunteer housing on-site
The Osa Peninsula offers different options for accommodations which volunteers can state their preference of in advance. Depending on the choice of accommodations, volunteers may either be within a short bike ride or walk to their project.
What is the difference between Caribbean and Osa Peninsula project?
The Caribbean site works on conservation with nesting turtles and is typically night work, patrolling the beach for nesting turtles. This project is best from February- August because that is when the turtles come to shore to lay eggs.
The Osa project is an in-water project, going out on the boat during the day and checking on the turtles in the water and operates year-round.
Which airport do I need to arrive for this project? How far is the project from the airport I would be arriving?
San Jose Airport (SJO), which is actually located in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
The Caribbean site is about 5 hours from San Jose.
The Osa site is about 8-9 hours from San Jose.
With both projects you will need to stay overnight at a hostel or hotel and take a taxi to the sea turtle office early on Monday morning. Specific instructions for the taxi driver will be in the placement materials.
How can I go to the project site?
In both projects, you have an orientation early on Monday morning at the sea turtle office in Tibas (a suburb of San Jose).
From there, they put you in a taxi to the appropriate bus station.
For the Caribbean site, you will get on the bus and they will have someone meet you at the bus stop and you will go by boat out to the site.
For the Osa site, you get on the bus and they have someone waiting for you at the bus stop in Osa to take you to your housing.
We do not charge in advance for sea turtle transportation as it involves public transportation, which cannot be paid in advance. All fees are explained in the placement, but can vary between $50-70 each way.
What are the activities involved at this project?
At the Caribbean site, you will be patrolling the beach protecting the sea turtles from poaching and helping to gather up the eggs and move them to a safe spot. When they are hatching, you help them towards the ocean.
At the Osa site, you go out on the boat and tag and measure sea turtles. Some days you will be working on the beach for beach maintenance.
Will I be handling the project on my own or will there be someone assisting me while working? There will be someone assisting you throughout the project.
How many hours a day will I be working?
Depending on the shift and the day, maybe 6 hour shifts approximately.
Do I need to bring any material?
For the Caribbean project, bring dark clothes and a flashlight with a red cellophane paper to cover the light.
Is this project available all-round the year? If not, when does it close for how long?
They are both available year-round, but on the Caribbean side, the turtles only nest from February to August, so it is best to go during that time. The Osa Peninsula site is available year-round since it is in the ocean.
Any important information you want to share about this project.
As these locations are remote, cell phone service and internet are rare, especially on the Caribbean. It also takes a lot of time to travel to/from the site, so it’s best to arrange travel plans before or after the volunteer project. The boat to the Caribbean site only goes out on Monday and Thursday, so you should plan your travel around that.