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Environment & Wildlife

The TOP 7 Volunteer Projects in Sea Turtle Conservation

October 15th 2022

Baby turtles in GreeceVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer GreeceSea turtles have fascinated coastal-dwelling societies and ocean lovers around the world for millennia.  They are the living representatives of a group of reptiles that have existed for over 100 million years.

Sadly, over just the past few decades these ancient and beautiful marine creatures have faced an ever increasing threat from extinction as their numbers diminish due to human impacts. It’s for this reason that WorkingAbroad is dedicated to the protection of sea turtle populations in many parts of the world, with our projects always needing volunteer support.

If you have ever wanted to volunteer in marine conservation, or provide a hand to help sea turtles, this list might be just what you need. In this blog post we’ll give you an overview of these gentle creatures, tell you a bit about their conservation status and provide you with a list of some of the best volunteering projects in sea turtle conservation around the globe.

About Sea Turtles

Sea turtle opening its mouthVolunteer Maldives | Marine Conservation | Working AbroadSea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the ocean, coming ashore at certain times during the year to either bask or nest.

The turtles migrate huge distances and their habitats stretch all 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.

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 GrenadaWork Grenada | Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer | Working AbroadSince sea turtles are found in almost every ocean in the world, opportunities to volunteer for them are scattered across the world. Most sea turtle conservation efforts are underfunded, so they rely on volunteers to share the workload of protecting turtles and their habitats. Additionally, organisations often depend on volunteer fees to help cover the costs associated with their basic operations.  Volunteering really do provide a significant portion of the resources needed to carry out conservation work.

If you have a decent level of physical fitness, a positive attitude and the desire to help, then volunteering in sea turtle conservation could be one of the best activities you ever do. But it’s important to note that while most organisations and conservation programmes make turtle welfare their top priority, there are some which can have questionable ethics and sometimes seem to have a higher focus on making money through tourism than serving the needs of the sea turtle population they claim to support.

It’s very 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 having a positive and measurable impact on the welfare of sea turtles, and in a safe and sustainable way.

So, are you ready for our list of our top 7 sea turtle volunteering opportunities?

1. Playa Tortuga Conservation Project, Costa Rica

  • Smith family feedback Costa RicaVolunteer Sea Turtles | Volunteer Costa Rica | Working AbroadWhat: 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 KenyaWatamu Kenya | Sea Turtle Marine Volunteering | Working AbroadWhat: 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 turtleWork Grenada | Leatherback Sea Turtle Volunteer | Working AbroadWhat: 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 GreeceVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer 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. Galapagos Conservation Volunteers

Galapagos IguanaGalapagos Volunteer | Galapagos Wildlife Conservation | Working AbroadWhat: The Galapagos Conservation Volunteers Programme touches a range of wildlife conservation and environmental projects on Isabela island, Galapagos. It forms part of a wider comprehensive approach to developmental aid in Galapagos. Volunteers can help to care for giant tortoises, become an ecotourism intern in the national park and get involved with turtle nest monitoring.

Where: Awe-inspiring and magnificent, The Galápagos Islands are one of the most renowned oceanic archipelagos in the world. Wildlife abounds above and below the sea surface here, and most of the plants, animals, and other forms of biodiversity are endemic, found nowhere else on the planet.

The project has been rated 5 out of 5 stars by previous volunteers. Liz and Alex, mother and son from the UK, volunteered for 2 weeks. They said;

“We loved every minute of it, learnt a lot and came away with much to reflect on. The ‘office’ was the most stunning beach imaginable, littered with iguanas and other wildlife.

6. Maldives Island Volunteer Project

Turtle swimming underwater in MaldivesVolunteer Maldives | Marine Conservation | Working AbroadWhat: 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 RicaVolunteer Costa Rica | Sea Turtle Volunteer | Working AbroadWhat: 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.”

We 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

(updated in October 2022 by David J Johnston)

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.