A great thing to do while overseas is to donate your time and energy to a worthwhile cause. Volunteering for a program you believe in is a beautiful addition to your trip, and you can feel good about giving back and supporting a local organization. One organization I found while researching a trip to Costa Rica was Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST). I arrived not entirely knowing what I had gotten myself into, and left a week later with a new set of friends, sharpened Spanish skills, and a deep love and appreciation for sea turtle conservation.
Sea turtles have always been near and dear to my heart, and the idea of helping them out thrilled me. Sadly, this is not a viewpoint shared by all, and sea turtle meat and eggs are sold on the Costa Rican black market. This, along with pollution and loss of habitat is driving many sea turtle species to extinction.
The research station is located on a black sand beach in Pacuare, Costa Rica and is only accessible via gorgeous jungle boat ride. It runs off of solar power, has very limited electricity, and no cell phone service or internet. It is home to sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, bats, leaf cutter ants, and abundant marine life. Accommodations are rugged and shifts can be labor intensive, but the project is extremely worthy and in need of donations and volunteers.
Generally, we would wake up for breakfast, have a short meeting, and then an afternoon activity. The activities included beach clean ups, data collection of plastic distribution on the beach, and general maintenance. Since most of the turtle activity occurred at night, the days were kept pretty simple. Most of our free time was spent swimming in the sea, napping, and reading books in hammocks. It was dreamy.
Every night the research assistants and volunteers were assigned a shift. Shifts were about 5 hours long and ran from 8pm to 6 am. During those hours, we would either patrol the beach, hoping to find a sea turtle that was laying eggs, or guard and observe the hatchery. I was lucky enough to find a nesting turtle nearly every night that I went on patrol. After recording measurements and location data about the turtle, we would safely transport her eggs back to the hatchery. This was done to avoid poachers and to ensure that the maximum amount of hatchlings made it to the sea. When working at the hatchery, we would check the nests to see if any babies had hatched (which they often did!). When hatchlings tunneled out of their nest and warmed up their tiny flippers, we measured and weighed them and then released them into the sea, being mindful of hungry crabs and birds lurking nearby.
Volunteers and donors are vital to this operation. The organization relies heavily on volunteers to assist in data collection and to continue their conservation efforts. Latin American Sea Turtles (and it’s neighboring project, La Tortuga Feliz) are doing important work that benefits the entire ecosystem. Sea turtles are significant contributors to their environments and without them, marine habitats would fall apart. I loved the time I spent in Pacuare and I felt like I was directly contributing to the survival of a species, which was incredibly important to me. I strongly recommend anyone interested to consider volunteering! Previous experience is not needed, and the only requirements are an open mind and positive attitude.
Cost: varies depending on the time of year, but starts at $25 a day and includes lodging, training, and 3 home cooked meals per day.
If you’re interested in volunteering or sending a donation, please visit: www.latinamericanseaturtles.com
Article & Photos by: Marcy Silver