Volunteering in Costa Rica with Sea Turtle Conservancy

Well groomed paths go between small cabins at the Tortuguero Research Station in Costa Rica.

Tortuguero Research Station Grounds. Photo © David Godfrey, courtesy of Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Founded in 1959 by renowned expert Dr. Archie Carr, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC; formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation) is the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group. Although their trips are pricey, they are highly regarded. Based in Gainesville, Florida, STC runs “eco-volunteer adventures” to Costa Rica March-October. All trips head to the remote island of Tortuguero, which is located off the Atlantic coast and home to a national park. There is a village on the island with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Tortuguero has been called “Costa Rica’s Amazon” for its rainforest and abundance of wildlife.STC offers a variety of trips, focused on leatherback or green turtles, on birds, or on a combination. Leatherback adventures are available March-May, and volunteers help find turtles, count turtle tracks, and tag nesting turtles. Leatherbacks are the world’s largest turtles, can weigh nearly 700 kilograms (up to 1,500 lb), and measure over 2 meters (up to 7 ft). Green turtle adventures are available June-October, and volunteers will work with researchers to measure these “gentle giants” (green turtles can weigh up to almost 160 kg/350 lb), count eggs, mark nests, and count tracks.

Onlookers watch a large green sea turtle with a transmitter on its shell move across the sand towards the sea.

A green sea turtle outfitted with a satellite transmitter is returned to the sea. Photo © David Godfrey, courtesy of Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Bird adventures are available March-October. Volunteers will learn to identify the local and migrant birds in the area, and the basics of bird handling and data collection. They will assist researchers at (temporary) capture stations and with bird censuses and migration counts. Trips can be added one after the other, so those interested in working with leatherbacks and birds can come March-May, while those interested in green turtles and birds can plan a trip for August-October.

Tortuguero has been called “Costa Rica’s Amazon” for its rainforest and abundance of wildlife. It’s such a popular destination for ecovacations (turtle conservancy in particular) that they have even developed their own website (with the help of a Peace Corps volunteer) at www.tortuguerovillage.com, which has a “must-do” list of activities that, in addition to checking out the turtles on the beach, includes hikes in the rainforest, boat tours in the island canals, a visit to the turtle museum, a tour of the village, ocean swimming, and a jungle zip line tour.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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