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Environment & Wildlife

The TOP 7 Volunteer Projects in Sea Turtle Conservation

January 14th 2020

Baby turtles in GreeceSea turtles are one of nature’s most beautiful and fascinating marine creatures, but sadly they face a huge threat from extinction as their numbers diminish around the world. That’s why sea turtle conservation projects across the globe are looking for your help.

If you’ve ever considered the idea of volunteering in marine conservation, or you’re curious about how you can help the world’s sea turtle population, then you’re in the right place. In this blog post I’ll give you an overview of these amazing creatures and their conservation status, and provide a list of some of the best volunteering projects in sea turtle conservation from around the globe.

About Sea Turtles

Sea turtle opening its mouthSea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the ocean, coming ashore at certain times throughout the year to either bask or nest.

These incredible creatures migrate huge distances, so their habitat is spread across the world’s ocean waters. Loggerhead sea turtles are particularly well-travelled; they regularly nest in Japan and migrate all the way to Baja California in Mexico in search of food.

There are a total of 7 species of sea turtle in the world today. Sadly 6 out of those 7 are endangered, and 3 are on the critically endangered list.

So why are numbers declining? The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has identified five of the most significant factors that threaten their existence.

  • Fisheries. All too often, sea turtles are caught and strangled in nets. Overfishing also leads to a change in their potential to find food, as well as destroying their natural habitats.
  • Pollution. From chemical waste to plastic and petroleum by-products, sea turtles are struggling to survive in such polluted waters. Light pollution is also a huge factor, as it affects nesting behaviours and leads them away from the sea, causing mass hatchling deaths.
  • Coastal Development. Construction and development along shorelines mean that hundreds of nesting sites are being lost.
  • Poaching. Sadly, sea turtles and their eggs are regularly killed by humans across the globe. Sometimes they’re taken for food, but they are also used to produce products using leather, shells and oil.
  • Climate Change. Changes to beach sand temperatures, as well as an increase in extreme weather events, are having a disastrous effect on seas turtle’s precious habitat. This results in a huge loss of nesting beaches.

How you can help

Leatherback sea turtle digging in GrenadaSince sea turtles are found in almost every ocean in the world, opportunities to volunteer with these amazing creatures are scattered all around the globe. Unfortunately, most sea turtle conservation efforts are underfunded, and so they rely on volunteers to share the often heavy workload of protecting these animals. Organizations help to fund their initiatives through volunteer fees, which go a long way in providing the resources which are needed to continue conservation work.

If you have a good level of physical fitness, a positive attitude and the desire to help, then volunteering in sea turtle conservation could be one of the best things you ever do. While most organisations and conservation programmes make turtle welfare their top priority, unfortunately there are some which tend to be geared more towards making money through tourism than serving the needs of the sea turtle population they claim to support.

That’s why it’s so important to pick a reputable programme. At WorkingAbroad, we thoroughly vet all of our volunteer programmes, ensuring they operate in a responsible, ethical and safe way. By volunteering through us, you’ll have peace of mind that you’ll be doing an amazing thing for the welfare of sea turtles in a safe and sustainable way.

Check out this list of our top 7 sea turtle volunteering opportunities from amazing destinations around the globe to get you inspired for new adventures in 2020!

1. Playa Tortuga Conservation Project, Costa Rica

  • Smith family feedback Costa RicaWhat: The team at the Playa Tortuga Conservation Project study the native nesting sea turtle population, as well as monitoring and researching crocodiles, tree boas and a wide variety of mammal life in the region.
  • Where: Playa Tortuga is part of a tropical rainforest nature reserve along the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica. The region is home to miles of unspoilt beaches, coral reefs and mangrove forests.

This volunteering project is one of the most popular at WorkingAbroad. Volunteers have given it an overall rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars. Sean Hiddleston from the UK, who volunteered on the project for 3 weeks, said;

“I had an incredible time in Costa Rica. I was lucky enough to help with the first two turtle releases of the year. Can’t overstate how amazing it is to watch them make their way to the water for the first time. Other highlights were the tree boa monitoring and the crocodile/caiman boat trip.”

2. Watamu Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Kenya

Volunteers holding sea turtles in KenyaWhat: The Watamu Sea Turtle Volunteer Project aims to protect the area’s sea turtle population by researching and monitoring nesting turtles, as well as rehabilitating sick and injured turtles. They also provide outreach and education programmes in the local community.

Where: The Watamu coast in Kenya is part of a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, sat on a stretch of pristine beaches with coral reefs and rich marine life, perfect for snorkelling.

The project has been given a full 5 out of 5 stars by previous volunteers. Sofia Gothlin, from Sweden, said;

“My time in Watamu was incredible! Couldn’t have been better; The accommodation, the people I was able to work with and all the amazing projects I got to be a part of. I will definitely go back some time to work with them again”

3. Ocean Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Grenada

Volunteer with female nesting leatherback sea turtleWhat: The Ocean Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer Project protects the local population of Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtle species still in existence. They do this through research projects, educational events in the community, and preventing illegal egg poaching activities in the region.

Where: The Ocean Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer Project is on the beautiful windswept coast of Grenada, one of the most unspoilt islands in the Caribbean.

The project has been given 4.9 stars out of 5 by past volunteers. Julie Racioppa, from Canada, joined the project for 3 weeks. She says;

“I had a very memorable time with Ocean Spirits! They were accommodating and amazing! The night surveys were my favourite, watching the turtles emerge from the ocean was absolutely incredible. Observing the mama turtles, counting eggs and finding hatchlings blew my mind! Highly recommend!”

4. Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project, Greece

Baby sea turtle in hands in GreeceWhat: The Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project focuses on protecting endangered sea turtles in their natural habitat by tracking and protecting nesting sites and hatchling populations, as well as promoting public awareness and education.

Where: The project is based on the beautiful island of Kefalonia, off the west coast of mainland Greece. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and biodiversity, with numerous rare and endemic species.

This conservation project has been given a 4.8 out of 5 star rating from previous volunteers. Kathryn Mincer, from the UK, spent 2 weeks volunteering with the project in Kefalonia. She says;

I loved my experience there, and would highly recommend it to others! My favourite activities was watching sea turtles around the harbour and helping with tagging events and health checks of turtles. It’s a great project and I’d love to return to it again.”

5. Island Conservation Volunteer Programme, Seychelles

volunteer measuring sea turtleWhat: The Island Conservation volunteer programme uses science and monitoring programmes to protect the critically endangered Hawkbill sea turtle population. They also focus on the conservation of sea and land bird colonies, giant tortoises, and the surrounding natural habitat.

Where: The project is based on Cousin Island in the Seychelles, which is a protected area due to its rare and endemic species. It’s the most important Hawksbill turtle nesting site in the West Indian Ocean.

The project has been rated 5 out of 5 stars by previous volunteers. Tyche, from the Netherlands, volunteered with the Island Conservation Volunteer Project for 4 weeks. She said;

Both turtle monitoring and the seabird monitoring were incredibly educational experiences. Observing a turtle whilst she’s nesting is definitely one of the most special things I’ve seen”

6. Maldives Island Volunteer Project

Turtle swimming underwater in MaldivesWhat: The Maldives Island Volunteer Project runs marine conservation volunteering programmes to protect and rehabilitate endangered sea turtle populations, as well as repairing local coral reefs and conducting marine life surveys. They also offer separate volunteer programmes to protect the local environment, as well as medical volunteering in hospitals on the island.

Where: The project is based on Naifaru Island, in the Northern part of the Maldives. It’s got an incredible coastline, with white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue water, which is perfect for snorkelling.

Previous volunteers have given the Maldives Island Volunteer Project 5 stars out of 5. Adolfo Marques, from Brazil, had an incredible time volunteering with the project. He says;

“I had a wonderful experience. Being in contact with the ocean and its life is magic. The peaceful coexistence of different cultures brought me immeasurable growth. I am sure that in Naifaru I left a bit of me and I brought with me all the people and the things that they taught me.”

7. Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

Volunteers digging the hatchery in Costa RicaWhat: The Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project runs conservation programmes to protect, research and monitor Olive ridley, Green and Hawksbill sea turtles, through activities like monitoring nesting turtles, carrying out night surveys, and protecting eggs in the hatchery before releasing baby turtles into the ocean.

Where: The project is based on the Osa Peninsula which runs along the Pacific coast of southwest Costa Rica. The area is home to the Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic called ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth’.

Previous volunteers loved their experience with the Pacific Sea Turtle Volunteer Project, giving it an overall score of 4.9 out of 5 stars. Matteo Ferrarini, from Italy, volunteered on the project for 4 weeks. He says;

“My volunteering experience was absolutely amazing; I really liked working with sea turtles, the conservation project was run in a professional way and I learnt a lot. I also really enjoyed the way of life there, that was simple and genuine, like doing the classes with the local kids or making coconut oil that we used to cook.”

I hope this list has inspired you to find out more about volunteering in sea turtle conservation with WorkingAbroad. Our previous volunteers tell us their time spent on these projects has been an incredibly valuable experience, and of course, an adventure of a lifetime.

Article written by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Grace Plant

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