Volunteer in the Caribbean and take part in leatherback sea turtle monitoring, research, and community outreach programmes on the island of Grenada. Featured on ITV's series "Secret Caribbean" with Sir Trevor McDonald.
You can volunteer with sea turtles for 3 weeks up to 12 weeks from March to August every year. We have places all throughout 2014 available.
Individuals, groups and students doing research all welcome.
Cost includes quality accommodation, food, airport transfer, training & supervision, project t-shirts, backup & support; starts at £895.
As we move into the 21st Century, marine turtles continue to face the foreboding prospect of extinction. Legal and illegal fisheries, incidental by-catch, loss of habitat and the harvesting of eggs have all contributed to the demise of sea turtle species throughout the Caribbean region and the entire globe. Working together with local communities, government departments and international and regional organisations, Ocean Spirits are working to ensure that the spectacle of a nesting or foraging turtle remains a key component of Grenada's uniquely vibrant biodiversity.
Your experience as a Research Assistant sea turtle volunteer will:
Despite adverse weather conditions and long working hours the collection of general population and individual specific information is the programmes highest priority. Without this insistence of a scientifically rigorous approach our data would not be considered robust enough on which to base serious resource management recommendations that we may make. For that reason, you must be able to adhere to strict scientific guidelines to participate in this sea turtle volunteer programme.
The Ocean Spirits Summer Camps (July/August) are focused on environmental issues and personal development with a heavy emphasis on hands-on activities (e.g. trial SCUBA, organic chocolate factory (solar powered), organic banana plantation, internet lessons etc). We aim to nurture their genuine interest and encourage these future stewards of Grenada to act responsibly with regards to their environment. You will be required to contribute towards summer camp programme events, preparation and assist in the day-to-day running of the camps. The cultural differences between the Caribbean and Western cultures make this experience and education for you too. You do not have to be a teacher, or have had any training or extensive knowledge of the environment (we have plenty of material to help with this); you need to be confident and prepared to help the students on a one to one basis and at group level. It is hard work – but great fun!
It may seem like an excuse for a party, but our community relationships have been successfully built upon ‘doing the Grenadian ting’! Each year (August), Grenada like all the other Caribbean islands, have a Carnival. In 2004, Ocean Spirits took its turn by playing ‘Turtle Mas’ in the local villages. Alongside designing amazing turtle costumes and banners, the team and local fishermen danced their way through the night, bringing the problems of egg poaching to the communities in a culturally specific way. It was a major success and while it will take some planning and organisation, this year will again give us a chance to enjoy the celebrations with the communities we work with and contribute in a very positive way to the future conservation of sea turtles and their eggs in the area. Be prepared for paper mache, paint and lots of glitter!
12th April to 3rd May
3rd to 24th May
24th May to 14th June
14th June to 5th July
5th to 26th July
26th July to 16th August
Project durations are for 3 weeks, but there are possibilities to join for 6, 9 or 12 weeks for experienced volunteers/research projects - please email: Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for more details on this or about the possibilities for alternate placement durations. Please note, the price for longer durations is discounted on the standard 3 week placement. Can be flexible with dates.
The nesting period for leatherbacks is from March – July. During this period you will spend the majority of your time conducting field research and assisting with turtle watches.
Food and accommodation
You will be based in the picturesque north east of the Island. The area is a windswept piece of paradise, which boasts a number of uninhabited offshore islands surrounded by coral reefs teeming with life. The accommodation comprises of a solid concrete built house, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a large balcony with incredible views across the outer islands and Carriacou. Sleeping arrangements are single sex rooms, with beds/futons and pillows provided. Linen and towels are not provided. The house has a fridge/freezer, gas cooker, telephone (outgoing calls are for project related needs only, you can receive incoming calls), 220 & 110V electricity supply. There is a fan in each room (no A/C); mosquito nets are not provided but if you react badly to bites you may wish to bring one with you.
This short film includes interviews with our Project Manager and one of our Ocean Spirits volunteers.
Second film, with courtesy of http://www.wildindie.com/
Known as the Spice Isle because of its’ high production of nutmeg, Grenada is a small volcanic island, 21 miles by 12 with a population of 90,000. It has many beaches along its indented coastline, lush rainforest in the interior and remains one of the least spoilt of the Caribbean islands. It also plays host to one of the major leatherback sea turtle nesting sites in the Caribbean with hundreds of nests laid each year. Each year, between 700 and 1000 nests are laid at Levera Beach - this is Grenada’s main nesting site and where the majority of our research takes place. The beach is only 700m in length which makes it an ideal research site, with high density nesting (10+ activities per night during peak season).
Below is an interactive map showing the location of the project
"Dancing with turtles" Feedback story by past volunteer Eva Schiemann
The first Leatherback Turtle in my life I saw on my first holiday to the Caribbean about two years ago. I saw it nesting on one of the beaches in Tobago and since then I had in mind to volunteer one day with a turtle project to help to protect these wonderful creatures. I have been looking at stunning pictures of seaturtles and hatchlings on the internet ever since, wondering if I will ever see that myself... indeed I did!
In my three weeks with Ocean Spirits I saw many Leatherback Turtles nesting, helped little hatchlings with their first crawl when they leave the nest and spent many hours out on the beach - at night and day. The first night was a bit crazy... we had many turtles coming up at once in pouring rain. I found myself lying underneath a turtle's backside, catching the eggs for relocation because she nested too close to the sea, getting soaked not only by rain but by sea water as well... and what can I say? I was actually enjoying it! Some other nights were more quiet and I could take my time watching them.
At first you see a dark shadow wondering if it is a rock or a turtle. When the rock moves, you know. You watch her dragging her heavy body up on the beach, looking for a good spot to nest. Once she has decided on a location, she will start making a body pit and digging the egg chamber.
Once she has done that, the researcher's work starts with counting eggs and measuring the turtle in order to collect data.
In the end she covers the nest and it always filled me with joy to see what she is doing with her rear flippers. It is a somehow neat and tender way of filling in and compressing the sand. Finally she camouflages the nest. On Tobago they say that the turtle "dances", a term that describes it pretty well, I think. It really amused me to see how she performs her "dance", shifting and turning, throwing sand with her front and rear flippers in all directions.
Seeing hatchlings is a very heart-touching experience, especially since so many of them only have a very short life. But every little one making it into the sea felt like a little success - hoping that it will survive out there on it's own havinng a long life and returning one day to Levera to nest.
Ocean Spirits on Grenada do a very good job, really taking care of their volunteers, making sure everybody is having a good experience. I enjoyed working out on the beach, even though I must admit I have been tired often... but it is definitely worth it. Since the volunteers are not out every night, we had a lot of time for ourselves as well and to explore the island of Grenada.
There are little duties to take care of during the day, which makes time pass by quick. Everybody gets to cook, making the shared dinner an exciting adventure every once on a while.
And last but not least: walking down to the beach at 5:30 a.m. for morning survey, catching the first rays of sunshine, is a good way to start the morning.
Previous volunteer Ben Campbell, from Australia gives his feedback on the project
I’m really glad I joined Ocean Spirits as a volunteer for three weeks in May 2013. The work and time there was enriching and it feels good to have contributed a bit to the conservation of the Leatherback turtle. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of these wonderful creatures and will miss them. I´ll also miss the like-minded, friendly, committed staff and volunteers. Living and working in the one place abroad, especially amongst locals, allowed me to get a deeper experience of Grenada, its people, environment and wildlife. The staff provided a good balance between serious work and fun, taking us on trips to the islands nearby for BBQs and snorkeling and giving us opportunities to be involved in cultural and community activities. It was also fun being with other volunteers from around the world.
The Ocean Spirits residence is very comfortable and secure and has an outstanding view from the spacious verandah out to Levera Beach in the distance and archipelago beyond. The garden has plenty of coconuts and a variety of tasty fruits. Our dinners were always good and the cooking was fun, with each night´s chefs not wanting to lower the standards set in previous meals!
The highlight, of course, was working hands-on at night with the Leatherbacks, especially in the moonlight - counting eggs, measuring, tagging, etc, then taking a snooze on the sand under the stars and occasionally spotting some hatchlings. Seeing a few turtles by day was always a bonus, and what a buzz it was one day to join the staff in rescuing a Leatherback tangled in an illegal fishing net at the south end of Grenada. This event exemplified the staff´s dedication to saving the turtles and was very satisfying to be part of.
For anyone who has a love of nature, is OK with occasionally roughing it a bit and has an interest in being somewhere very special in the Caribbean, I highly recommend joining Ocean Spirits – for the place, the people, the turtles and the cause.
Sean Park, one of our volunteers in Grenada last season, and other volunteer researchers wrote this Turtle Song about Grenada's protected Leatherback turtles and they sang it all together with local school children
Charlie Hohlbein, from Seattle USA, joined our Grenada programme for 6 weeks, and has written a blog post about her experience:
Before volunteering with Ocean Spirits I had seen 1 leatherback turtle on a tour I took in Costa Rica. I didn’t really know what to expect but I signed up to volunteer with the hope of seeing a few more of these mesmerizing creatures. And boy did I get what I came for. In my six weeks with Ocean Spirits I learned about, named, measured, serenaded, photographed, pit scanned, tagged, and saw more turtles than I could ever hope for.
There were quite a few incredible days on my trip but one thing I will never forget was the very first hatchling of the season. It was my second week on the project I woke up on the beach after night survey, and headed down the beach with everyone to begin raking over the nests (we rake the nests to disguise them from possible poachers). About three quarters of the way down Levera beach Kester called my name and told me to come see something. He felt the ground in several areas and then started digging. I wasn’t really sure what he was up to but I sat there patiently waiting. All of the sudden he reached out and handed me a little baby leatherback turtle. I pretty much squealed with joy at the sight of it. We only found the one left in that nest that was still alive. Some had already hatched and climbed out on their own, and a few we found hadn’t made it. We released the hatchling near the water and watched it make its way into the sea. Only 1 in 1000 of them are supposed to make it but I have a good feeling about that tiny turtle.
I had a turtletastic, and unforgettable experience with Ocean Spirits. I fell in love with sea turtles in those six weeks and hope to be able to see many many more in the future. Grenada is an incredibly beautiful Island with much more to see than one might expect. I worked with and met some amazing people who became great friends. It was truly a wonderful adventure.
Ken Lindsay, 51 yrs old from NY, USA volunteered on Ocean Spirits in April 2012
I thought I would touch base and let you know that I greatly enjoyed my experience with Ocean Spirits. The work with the leatherbacks was phenomenal and I greatly enjoyed working with and being with Kate, Kester, Mike and Alan. They were all very professional in their work and fun to be with during the off hours. The other volunteers, Charlie, Marije and Emma were great too, we all got along well.
I've been missing Ocean Spirits since my return home and I hope to return again in the future.
Diana Maher, from Finland, describes her time with Ocean spirits
My experience with Ocean Spirits was excellent and will be a warm memory forever. A special moment was when one of the turtles managed eventually to lay her eggs on the third nights try, after we helped her to dig the chamber which was difficult for her to do due to her injured back fins. That moment and many others with the turtles as well the team are unforgettable. Grenada is amazing island, and the nature is overwhelming.
Steve Tranter, 47 yr old, British volunteer writes about his experience in May/June 2011
My name is Steve Tranter, working as a volunteer for Ocean spirits in May/June 2011 in Grenada. Having been to this beautiful country before on holiday some ten years ago. I knew from all the information booklet that I received before my trip was very helpful to prepare me for this wonderful opportunity of saving leatherback Turtles. Having arrived in Grenada the first couple of days were spent training and meeting the supervisors and receiving a warm welcome. The house was comfortable and basic the food was different sometimes exciting, there were occasions I wasn’t sure what I was eating but it was ok. After the training was over it was time for our first night survey after making sure we have checked and loaded all the equipment we set off for Levera beach it is where most turtle activity takes place. I remember seeing my first turtle and what an amazing creature after she found a suitable spot to lay here eggs we would check for tags and for tag scars and scan her microchip usually in her right shoulder and count the eggs and measure her and measure the location of the nest from markers on the beach we would record all this information on a data sheet this event would happen up to twenty times a night, at the end of the night survey we would rake over turtle tracks so as to deter predators and check for hatchlings they are so cute we would place them by the water edge and watch as they make there way to the ocean and hope they survive.
I found being with experienced supervisors was helpful, and during my time there with them found you were able to ask them questions they would know the answers top marks to them. I found you had quite a bit of free time after you had completed your rota jobs, you could just sit around and relax or go the beach. There were some mornings you would do a morning survey this would meen getting up at 5am and walk to Bathway beach and check for any turtle activity any turtle activity would need to be recorded.
I also found being with other volunteers it was interesting getting to know them and where they live and great working with them as part of a team.
I found the local people very friendly and would always speak to you very nice people, sometimes the supervisors would arrange trips for us sandy beach island was very nice, although one lady said it was known as sunburn island would recommend factor 50 sun cream and insect repellant by the bucket load, I was ok for the first couple of days and then I could hide no more the mosquitoes found me thankfully it wasn’t to bad.
My overall impression of the whole three weeks I was there I found every thing had come together and was impressed with the set up it was exciting experience the people I was sharing the house with and the supervisors were very helpful, the accommodation and the food and the location was just right, and going to Levera or Bathway beaches there were hardly any tourists due to the location every thing was brilliant and a most enjoyable experience and I would certainly recommend it to any future volunteers and hope to it again some time to return to this beautiful country of Grenada.
Canadian volunteer - Rachel Mitchell
Ontario based newspaper wrote an article about her time in Grenada May-June 2011 - “In Grenada, my work consisted of night surveys, morning surveys, nest excavations, data collection, protecting hatchlings, and working with local youth through the after school club,” she says.
Ms. Mitchell worked four nights a week from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Levera Beach, home of the Leatherback, a critically endangered sea turtle. “With every turtle that emerged, we were responsible for counting the eggs, measuring the carapace, checking flipper tags, and documenting any other information on the turtle, whether it was a missing flipper, or wounds.
“In the event that you came across a new turtle, untagged and with no micro chip, you were given the opportunity to name and tag your very own turtle. I was fortunate enough to discover two new turtles.”
She also completed morning survey work that involved waking at 5:30 a.m., walking to a nearby beach, and raking turtle tracks. “It was very important to cover the tracks, making it harder for poachers to steal the eggs,” she says. Full article under: http://stfx.ca/news/view/3812/
Jen Lipski wrote about her experience in Grenada May/June 2011
My name is Jen Lipski, and I was volunteering with the program for 3 weeks in May/June. I am an artist, but I love animals and have always been fascinated by marine biology. I joined Ocean Spirits because I wanted to help animals in any way I could, and I ...prefer hands-on work experience rather than throwing money at charities and letting them have all the fun.
The first turtle I saw during my stay was also the first turtle I got to rescue. I found him on the beach on my first day of work, all tangled up in the seaweed and baking out in the sun. He was upside-down and barely moving. I got him free of the weeds and brought him down to the water. We splashed some water to cool him down, then released him onto the sand so he could make his way to the shore. Rejuvenated by the cool water, he regained the strength needed to pull himself across the sand. We took some photos while he oriented himself, and then he headed out to brave the ocean. We helped him a little as he got knocked about by the first few waves, and then watched as he disappeared beneath the surf and headed out into the blue. The feeling of giving this little baby turtle a second chance at life was unforgettable, and already made my trip more than worthwhile. I got to repeat this feeling throughout my stay, every time I pulled a lost and disoriented hatchling out of the vegetation after night survey or protected a new nest from poaching and other threats.
Working with the females at night was another amazing experience. They are surprisingly unalarmed by our presence, even when it is their very first time nesting. I had the opportunity to work with one of the first turtles encountered by the program when it began, as well as with new turtles who had never been seen out of the water before. New turtles are especially interesting, as you may get to share with them their very first time emerging from the ocean and giving birth, which is also an incredible experience.
Aside from the animals, my favourite thing about the trip was having the experience of living in Grenada, not just visiting. You get to spend time hanging out with the locals, and experience the culture first hand without all the touristy crap. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and not just because they want to sell you things. (I have only been to Grenada once before, and it was on a cruise where all you get to see is blue sky and tourist traps). I much prefer the experience of living in a rural area and seeing what life there is really like. And you do get to live there. By the middle of the second week it is easy to forget that you actually have a home somewhere else and that you will eventually have to leave.
There is a fair bit of work involved with the program at times, but the job is extremely rewarding and I had a lot more free time than I initially expected. Most of the work is flexible too, and can easily be planned around day trips to the beach or to the island’s many other attractions. Overall the experience was incredible and I would recommend it to anyone who likes tropical adventures and hands-on work with animals.
Elin Pennanen from Finland, studying Veterinary Medicine in Denmark volunteered with Ocean Spirits between March 26th and April 16th 2011 and wrote about her daylight turtle experiences:
Here’s the story about my daylight turtles.
The first week as a volunteer me, and a couple of the other volunteers, went to a nearby town, Grenville. While out, the volunteers at the house got called down to the beach because of a DAY-turtle nesti...ng!! The turtles normally only come up at night to nest and since we’re not supposed to take pictures with a flash, it’s almost impossible to get a good picture, proving you’ve actually been working with turtles… We missed a perfect photo opportunity for the little town, where there wasn’t even too much to see! We were so disappointed, especially since we hadn’t even had a morning turtle before (a turtle staying up at the beach until dawn).
The second week my luck seemed to have turned. At night survey with Praggi (one of the supervisors) we got a turtle at the point of the beach around 01:30. It was a new one; no PIT-tag and no scars from earlier flipper-tags, so I even got to name the turtle. The newbie dug her hole, but wasn’t too lucky, the egg chamber filled with water from beneath without her noticing. We relocated the eggs for her by filling the chamber with sand, so we didn’t have to reach in too deep, and moving the eggs to a bucket as she laid them. We then dug a new chamber for the eggs further up at the beach, counting the eggs as we dropped them into the hole. We left the turtle and returned to our base.
When the other team returned after the next run along the beach, they told us she was still up. We didn’t think much about it, but when we got up for our next run, she was still there! She had started to dig a new egg chamber. She even got ready to lay, but she had no eggs left, obviously. When we were finishing the run, she was still up, and the sun was starting to rise. We stayed with her, radioed the other team and got some really good shots of her. At 06:15, she finally had had enough of the beach, and returned, in almost broad daylight, to the sea, leaving a horribly long track for us to rake… Thanks for the pictures, crazy “little” turtle!
I was even lucky enough to get two more morning turtles during my second week - one in pouring rain and another one in perfect dawn. The water was so clear that last morning you could see the shadow of the turtle under the water as she left the beach. It was magical when she came up for her last breath before disappearing into the ocean.
Kate Rooney, Marine Biologist from Scotland spent 9 weeks from April to June 2010:
1. Grenada is a beautiful country and has the nicest people I have ever met. The project is located in the north and I preferred this, there is very few tourists and it gives you a real taste of what Grenadian life is like, I also found people in the north friendlier and so warm and welcoming. I absolutely loved Grenada and would go back tomorrow if I could! The project houses have wonderful views and within walking distance of the beach and only a short bus journey to local town so ideally situated.
6. I found the cost reasonable, its very similar to other projects and I like that once you paid for the project you dont really need to worry about money whilst on the project as accommodation and food is all provided.
7. I felt the handbook provided gave you a good idea how to prepare for the project, only suggestions I have is I would highly recommend taking own sleeping bag as you do get to sleep on the beach some nights and it can get chilly!! Also after speaking with Danielle (education supevisor) the section in guide book where it asks to take small gifts/prizes for local school events I would suggest putting a note that playing cards are not acceptable as local culture deem unsuitable for children as she getting lots of playing cards given!
8. I would just advise future volunteers that the project isnt a holiday, you get out of the project what you put in. If your prepared to work and muck in you will have the time of your life.
Don Schwartz, 57 yrs old Child Psychologist from the USA writes about his time there from 27th February to 20th March 2010
Let me start by saying that my experience at Ocean Spirits was extraordinarily memorable. I still share highlights with friends and acquaintances. What I most appreciated is that the project and experience was as advertised. When we applied, I was hopeful that the project would match the description, and it most certainly did.
We enjoyed Grenada. The people were extremely friendly; the beaches were uncrowded and lovely. The location of the project was a quiet and relaxing setting. We loved being on the beach at night, listening to the waves and looking up at a sky full of stars. We learned so much about leatherback turtles during our stay. The staff made us feel welcome and went out of their way to make sure we were happy. Regarding changes, I would have been happy to have contributed more in some way during some of the downtime during the days. We also ventured to Carriacou for a few days and really enjoyed the island.
The house and accommodations were comfortable. The community dinners were fabulous. Being vegetarians, we really appreciated having vegetarian meals. I didn’t expect anything fancy, and was satisfied with the accommodations. I am grateful that Nic arranged for Dana and me to share our own room.
What an incredible gift to be able to work so closely with the magnificent leatherbacks.
The locals on the staff and in town were very warm and welcoming
There was a nice balance and sharing of responsibilities.
The research assistants, local staff members and Nic were all terrific. The orientation was interesting and complete, the roto was clear and flexible, and everyone wanted to ensure that we had a good experience. Our group got along well.
The weather was perfect the beach was idyllic and to wake up every morning to the view from our balcony was breath taking.
Over the 3 weeks we all worked hard and played hard and some good relationships were formed.
I am still amazed by the dedication of Carl and although I did not meet her, Becky, for their commitment to this project and the sacrifices they have made to ensure its continued success, have I benefited from this experience, I certainly feel that my time in Grenada has made me look at my life and has made me question whether I actually contribute to this world we live in and take for granted. I am conscious that I do not have a real passion in my life and I feel that I can address this by way of some worthwhile voluntary work working with animals in some capacity.
As to whether I was prepared, I am not sure you can ever be prepared for an experience like this unless you have been there before, the work was hard, worthwhile and rewarding, in the first week we thought we would not survive the next 2 weeks, by the end of the 3rd week no one wanted to come home and a few tears were shed saying goodbye.
Can anything be improved, I would not want to change a single thing, and even the fact that my suitcase was mislaid and I did not get it until the end of the 3rd day would not make me wish for anything to be different in any way.
I look forward to going back sometime and doing it again!!
Ocean Spirits Research Assistant Volunteer July-August 2005 - Amy Morton, from the UK gives her feedback on her time volunteering in Grenada:
I volunteered with Ocean Spirits at the end of last summer, on a six week placement and had most possibly the best six weeks of my life!! Grenada is a warm and wonderful island and being a member of the Ocean Spirits team really gives you a true insight into the Caribbean way of life and you are really treated as a local. The project itself involved long hours sometimes but you often found yourself going to the beach to do night surveys in the hope of spotting a mother nesting. At one point myself another a volunteer had lost all hope of seeing a mother, and the other volunteers even went to the extremes of sneaking to the other end of the beach one night to build us a sand leatherback for us to find on our morning survey. Finally I got lucky and found myself with my head by a nesting mothers bum!! My job, to catch the eggs the mother was laying so that other members of the team could relocate the nest in the hope that the eggs would be more likely to survive than in the damp spot their mother had chosen. I met some wonderful people working in Grenada, spent the night on a real desert island, saw hatchlings nearly every day for six weeks and more importantly have come away from my Ocean Spirits experience with wonderful memories. I am now in my third year at University, and after my experience have decided to write my dissertation on sea turtles!! Thanks to everyone at Ocean Spirits and I guarantee that if you volunteer with this company you will receive brilliant treatment and times.
If you are interested in joining this project as a Research Assistant volunteer, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your deposit of £150. If for some reason, your application is declined, we would reimburse this deposit fully. However for those who are accepted, the full amount needs to be paid two months before departure. Once you have been accepted on the programme, you will receive a Volunteer Handbook with all detailed information on your project, suggested items to bring and so on. For those booking for 6, 9 or 12 weeks, you will need to pay the first 3 weeks of your final payment after you have been accepted on the programme, with the remainder to be paid two months before departure.