Help a Community-Based Sea Turtle Conservation Project on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

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Volunteer with sea turtles in Costa Rica as one of our marine conservation volunteers, and join this Olive Ridley and Green sea turtle programme in the spectacular Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

As a marine conservation volunteer, you will take part in night surveys, monitoring nesting sea turtles, relocating eggs to the hatchery, releasing baby turtles into the ocean, and helping with local environmental education and ecotourism projects. You will also meet lots of new people, have time to explore the pristine wilderness of the Osa Peninsula, and have the opportunity to immerse yourself in genuine Costa Rican culture.

You can join for 1 week up to 12 weeks from July to March every year. We have places all throughout 2015 and 2016 available.

Individuals, groups and students doing research are all welcome.

Cost includes lodging in main camp/homestay, 3 meals a day, training & supervision, materials; starts at £337.

A volunteer comes face to face with a baby olive ridley A volunteer performs a nest excavation A baby olive ridley heads for the ocean Preparing for a performance at the turtle festival A baby leatherback turtle rests in a volunteers palm A baby green turtle hatches A homestay house in Drake Bay An olive ridley nest starts to hatch A three-toed sloth wonders through camp Volunteers practising how to make nests The main camp in Drake Bay Teaching environmental education at the school Volunteers sowing seeds in the veggie garden A scarlet macaw A rare hawksbill nest hatches on Drake Beach Playing volleyball at the camp in Drake Bay Learning how to make Costa Rican tamales A volunteer with a green turtle on Rio Oro beach Volunteers at the main camp Putting eggs into a nest at the hacthery A green turtle nests on Drake Beach at dawn Watching the hatchlings crawl out to sea Baby green turtles at the hatchery The hatchery has space for over 100 nests A green turtle track at Rio Oro beach Volunteers relaxing at the waterfalls Volunteers building the hatchery Going on a horseback excursion Volunteers with their homestay family Volunteers get to release the baby turtles into the ocean

The Project

An Olive Ridley heads back out to sea

The Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula is one of the most intensely biodiverse places on the planet and contains 2.5% of the world’s species crammed into an area the size of New York City! The Corcovado National Park, which takes up a third of the peninsula, is the crown jewel in Costa Rica’s park system and is home to more than 500 species of trees, 140 species of mammals, 370 species of birds, 40 species of freshwater fish, 120 amphibians and reptiles, more than 150 species of orchids and more than 6000 species of insect and butterfly. The waters around the peninsula are home to over 25 dolphin and whale species, all four species of Pacific sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, tuna, blue marlin and sailfish – to name but a few – and the Caño Island marine reserve in Drake Bay is a globally important mating area for humpback whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres!

The Programme

The programme offers volunteers the chance to work at two different conservation sites: Drake Beach and Río Oro Beach, and so once you have received your training you will be able to choose how much time you want to spend working at each site. Please note that the Río Oro site is only open to those volunteers working from two weeks or more.

Drake Beach

Volunteers are needed at Drake Beach from July to December for 1 to 12 weeks in duration, every year.

The programme in Drake Bay works closely with the community to protect between 150 and 250 Olive Ridley turtles that nest on the 3.6 km Drake Beach each season. This vibrant community-led project boasts ten years of experience.

Drake Beach is wild and undeveloped and accessible mainly by boat and foot, since the roads are sometimes impassable in the rainy season. It is the difficult access and the absence of development on Drake Beach that has allowed the sea turtles to survive there for so long, but unfortunately a few local residents still go to the beach to poach turtle eggs, and so the project is designed to protect the eggs by moving nests to a hatchery. The project has been hugely successful: for decades poachers took over 90% of the nests laid each season; but since the project began in 2006 the community has saved over 90% of the nests and released over 70,000 babies into the Pacific Ocean!

Drake Bay is Costa Rica’s premier eco-tourism destination, and the programme offers a huge selection of tours to volunteers using the most reputable and eco-friendly tour operators. Tours include:

  • Day trips to the Corcovado National park, where you can see four species of monkey, tapir, peccary, crocodiles, scarlet macaws, toucans and much more!
  • Snorkelling or diving tours to the Caño Island marine reserve, where you can see whales, dolphins, sharks, sting rays, manta rays, thousands of different coral fish, and of course sea turtles.
  • Inexpensive community-based tours, horseriding, mountain biking, and waterfall hikes.
  • Bird watching, whale watching, night tours, fishing trips, mangrove tours and many others.

Weighing eggs at the turtle hatcheryRio Oro Beach

Volunteers are needed at Rio Oro Beach from July to March for 2 to 12 weeks in duration, every year. 

The programme’s brand new site at Río Oro beach offers volunteers the chance to protect one of the most important nesting habitats on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The beach receives over 2000 Olive Ridley, Green, Hawksbill and even Leatherback sea turtles each year, and the area is a pristine wilderness paradise. The site is, however, very remote and offers a totally different volunteering experience from Drake Bay and is not for the faint-hearted. Those volunteers wishing to work at Río Oro will receive special training and will have the chance to re-pack their bags at Drake Bay and leave unnecessary valuables behind at the hostel before embarking on their expedition to this exciting and rustic wilderness. 

The Río Oro site is located on the unsealed road between Puerto Jiménez and Carate (the nearest village), where the road terminates just a few kilometres from the La Leona ranger station and southernmost entrance to the Corcovado National Park. Carate itself has another sea turtle project that protects Carate beach. Volunteers from both projects have the chance to collaborate with conservation activities and spend free time together, and there are often a large number of volunteers working in the area.

Activities

As a volunteer, you will be working under the direct supervision of a Scientific Supervisor throughout your time at the programme. Activities include:

  • Performing night surveys on the beach to find nesting turtles and help protect them from illegal extraction and predators (4-6h per day).
  • Relocating eggs, building new nests.  
  • Monitoring nests and baby turtles.   
  • Tagging female turtles.
  • Collecting biometric data on the beach.
  • Releasing baby turtles into the ocean.
  • Nest excavation (exhumations)
  • Maintenance of beach and camp.
  • Helping with local environmental education and ecotourism projects.

2015 & 2016 Dates & Costs

Humpback whale jumps out the water in Drake Bay

Playa Drake Dates:

1st to 15th July
15th July to 29th July 
29th July to 12th August 
12th August to 26th August 
26th August to 9th September 
9th September to 23rd September 
23rd September to 7th October 
7th October to 21st October 
21st October to 4th November 
4th November to 18th November 
18th November to 2nd December 
2nd December to 16th December 

Rio Oro Beach Dates:

20th July to 3rd August
29th July to 12th August
12th August to 26th August
26th August to 9th September
9th September to 23rd September
23rd September to 7th October
7th October to 21st October
21st October to 4th November
4th November to 18th November
18th November to 2nd December
2nd December to 16th December
16th December to 30th December
30th December to 13th January 2016
13th January to 27th January 2016
27th January to 10th February 2016
10th February to 24th February 2016
24th February to 9th March 2016
9th March to 23rd March 2016

We are flexible with dates, so you are welcome to join/leave on different dates than the ones listed above, these serve just as a guideline.  Please email: Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for any questions with regards to dates, durations etc.

Costs
The cost for 1 week is £337, 2 weeks is £479, 3 weeks is £620, and 4 weeks is £668, 5 weeks is £786, 6 weeks is £904, 7 weeks is £1022, 8 weeks is £1140  and 12 weeks is £1614.  The cost is the same whether you live in a homestay or the main camp. You may also combine 1 week in the main camp and 1 week in a homestay if you wish.   Please email Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for prices of other durations and any other questions.  This cost includes three meals a day, accommodation, snacks for patrols, equipment (for patrols), guide during the volunteering, training, transportation between the two conservation sites and back up and support. Airfare and transportation to the project, lodging in San Jose, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included in the cost. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.

Food, Lodging, Travel

Facilities at the main camp

Food & Accommodation

The programme headquarters and based at a non-profit hostel called Drake Bay Backpackers, in the village of El Progreso, where you will stay for your first two days while you receive your training and orientation. This site offers excellent facilities, including free Wi-Fi internet, lounge with hammocks and sofa, free coffee and tea, a library, cinema screen, sound system, volleyball court, a large garden with BBQ and chill-out zones, and a swimmable river and nature trail. 

After the training period, volunteers at Drake Bay can choose either to stay in a private room in a homestay house in the village, or in a shared dormitory at the main camp/backpackers. These homestay houses come highly recommended, as our feedback tells us that the experience of living with a real Costa Rican family is often the highlight of the trip for volunteers. The homestays are rustic and typical of rural Costa Rica and do not have hot water. Electricity is available in every house though, and all rooms are equipped with locks, fans and/or mosquito nets. It is quite safe to leave valuables in your rooms and to walk in the village at night, and all houses are located within a 5 minute walk from the headquarters.

Typical room in a home stay houseAccommodation at the at Río Oro site is very basic and is comprised of a marquee tent camp with some platforms, a rustic dorm, kitchen and dining area, and rudimentary toilet and cold water shower facilities. The site is ‘off-grid’ and so there is no electricity, no internet and no cell phone reception available in the area. The field station is, however, equipped with solar panels that provide lighting and power a radio for essential communications only.  Given the National Wildlife Refuge status of the area, there are restrictions as to what volunteers may take to the site during their stay.  Waste management facilities are very limited and it is required that volunteers take responsibility for their own plastic waste during their stay at the site and must take it back with them in their own luggage when they leave.

Accommodation is in bunk beds in a mixed dorm and bed linen is provided. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at 08:00, 12:00 and 18:00, respectively, and a rotation system is in place so that all volunteers get a chance to cook, clean and prepare the patrol equipment. During the day there  is plenty of free time, but there is also lots of opportunity to contribute to the maintenance, organization and development of the new field station.

Amenities

Ingredients for coookingIt is important to highlight that El Progreso is a remote place where many of the amenities that you might be used to are not readily available. The main camp and home-stay houses are simple but typical of rural Costa Rica and do not have hot running water. Electricity is available along with free (but limited) internet access in the main camp. Bicycles are available for transfer to and from the beach, although at times it will be necessary to walk. Public landline telephones have only recently reached El Progreso but may be used, when available, by volunteers.  There is no ATM in Drake Bay, so you should make sure that you bring enough cash for the duration of your stay at Drake beach. There is an ATM in Puerto Jiménez, and so volunteers transiting between the two sites will be able to draw cash out there.The village contains three grocery stores (pulperías), two small restaurants (sodas), a school, two churches, a bar, a community center and soccer field, and Drake Bay Airport. The main tourist town of Agujitas is only a 15 taxi ride (or a beautiful 1 hour walk) away, and is easily visited on your day off.

Volunteers at Rio Oro should be aware that this conservation site is much more remote than Drake beach, and there is no electricity nor cell phone reception. The field station is equipped with solar panels that provide lighting and power a radio for essential communications only. While Carate does not have much to offer in terms of amenities, volunteers will pass through Puerto Jiménez while transiting between the Drake Bay and Río Oro sites. Volunteers are also free to visit the town on their days off and as part of planned excursions. While still small, Puerto Jiménez is the largest and most developed town in the Osa Peninsula and has banks with ATM machines, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, a post office, an airport and a number of other amenities. There is a local ‘colectivo’ truck that travels from Puerto Jiménez to Río Oro twice daily and costs around $9 each way (2.5-3 hours). 

Volunteers crossing the Lagoon at Drake Beach

Working Conditions & Requirements
All volunteers should be at least 18 yrs old age.  English is required and Spanish is very helpful, even if basic, but a small amount of Spanish would go a long way.  A strong interest in conservation is required, as is good team work spirit and flexibility.  You should also be in good health and fit - you need to be able to work 2-3 nights per week (rest the next day) and walk several kilometres on soft sand.  The work at the project can be extremely tough and is not necessarily for everybody. Weather conditions can be extreme, especially since the nesting season coincides with the rainy season, with heavy rainfall and storms often a daily occurrence (rainy season = turtle season!). The majority of the work is nocturnal and it will be necessary to adjust to sleeping in the daytime, often enduring high temperatures and humidity. The way of life is rustic, but the environment is full of jaw-dropping natural beauty and extraordinary biodiversity. After a little time at the project you will no doubt find yourself adjusting to the life of a local.

You will be allocated a free day every week, during which time you may decide to take a guided tour of the neighbouring Corcovado National Park, the Isla de Caño Marine Reserve, or one of many other local sights, or simply to use the day to rest at the camp. During the other six days of the week, it is expected that you will be fully engaged with the work schedule. Personnel at the program are happy to help volunteers to organize tours and other activities to pursue, and they strive to offer ethical eco-tours and excursions that benefit the local community. However, it is important to note that they are not a tourism agency, and due to limited resources they cannot offer guarantees that planned activities will take place. At Río Oro beach there are fewer scheduled daytime activities, and so you will find that there is more opportunity to explore the area and discover the wonderful nature of the Osa Peninsula.

How to get there?
El Progreso is a small and relatively remote coastal town, but it may be accessed by road, boat or light aircraft. Whichever travel option you choose, all journeys leave San José in the morning. Travel by bus and boat is the cheapest option; however the journey typically takes around 11 hours, whereas the flight from San José takes just 40 minutes.  Please email Victoria.McNeil@workingabroad.com for more specifics.  International flights to San José from Europe are usually either with American Airlines via Miami or with Iberia via Spain. Flying with Condor via Frankfurt is also an economical option. Please remember not to look for San Jose in California, it is San José International Airport (Juan Santamaria) - code SJO.

Interactive Map & Background

Please see the interactive map below:

Video showing the work of volunteers on the project:


 

The beautiful coastline of Costa Rica where sea turtle volunteers will workAbout Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordered by Panama on the East and Nicaragua on the West. It is a country of staggering beauty, immense variety of wildlife, active and dormant volcanoes, mountains with extensive trail systems, cloudforest and rainforest, Pacific and Caribbean beaches, indigenous groups and loads more. It is also a very peaceful country with one of the highest ratings for "happiness" amongst its nationals in the world! This project is located in the small community of El Progreso and the beaches where the sea turtles are monitored are Drake Beach and Ganado Beach, in the Osa Peninsula, South-eastern Costa Rica on the Pacific coast.

A map of where volunteers will be working

 

A map of where sea turtle volunteers will work in Costa RIca

Volunteer Testimonials

A caterpillar at Rio Oro

I think the program is fantastic. I enjoyed a lot. I wish I was here longer.

Matthew, Australia

The work you do is so great so move forward and never give up.

Cameron, USA

I can see that a lot of thought has gone into the project. It runs smoothly for such complex logistics. I like the emphasis on learning about the community as well as the turtles.

Beth, UK

Family was very welcoming-glad we stayed at homestay the whole time. Everyone in the village is so friendly.

Having fun at the Tree Festival

Megan, New Zealand

Staying in a homestay gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the culture and Spanish language. My family was lovely.

Martyna, Poland

Homestay was an amazing experience; a great way to get to know the community.

Jil, Luxembourg

I think it is great to have to volunteers stay in homestay. I was immersed in true Costa Rican life. I was apprehensive about it at first but loved every minute.

Lasse, Germany

Our room was clean and the family was always really friendly and the food was great. I would always come back.

Sofia, Germany

The family we stayed with was so sweet. They accepted us as their babies and took care of us.

Barbara, Canada

I had a great time and don't want to leave. Four weeks became six, which is a good sign!

Amy, UK

Excellent! There were was always something to do; impossible to get bored.

Maddy, UK

The staff clearly work hard and have created a positive, passionate team of volunteers. They also have made a clear and successful effort to integrate themselves and the organization into the local community.

Annick, Switzerland

The local patrol leaders were great. They always made effort to talk to me even though we couldn’t understand each other!

A volunteer finds a baby turtle on Drake Beach

Rachel, France

The local patrol leaders are friendly and charming. I always felt safe to patrol with them.

Marie, USA

I had a really enjoyable time and it was so rewarding. I wish I could have stayed much longer.

Kortni, USA

I had the most amazing time of my life. Completely unforgettable. This has changed me for the better.

Kristyna, Czech Republic

The homestay was very accommodating of my dietary requirements and willing to help me learn Spanish.

Tatiana, Belarus

The homestay gave us a big part of the house with a private bathroom, very friendly with simple Spanish.

Jesse, Canada

The homestay was the best experience and it improved my Spanish.

Ryan, USA

Loved it. Camp is well-equipped. Felt at home, thanks!

Logan, Canada

I really enjoyed the environmental education festival and interacting with the kids.

Sandrine, Canada

It is great how the community is involved in many areas, and the interaction with the children.

Mariena, Costa Rica

The location is so beautiful!

A family welcomes volunteers to their home stay

Aurélie, France

I want to come back!

Gaia, Italy

I had a great time with the local leaders. Best people in the world. I learned a lot from them.

Niels, Germany

Thanks for everything that you have taught me, and for an incredible experience.

Jan, Netherlands

The coordinators were very approachable and open to listen to concerns and recommendations. Great job organizing so many volunteers!

Ruth, South Africa

I always felt welcome to speak to any of the coordinators, for questions, problems etc.

Teresa, Spain

Amazingly patient coordinators! They always explained everything in detail, good training; they were always approachable, knowledgeable, helpful with everything from travel info to Spanish and health etc.

Tania, UK

Everyone was awesome, super friendly and helpful.

Jessica, USA

The coordinators are extremely helpful and great to get on with. All have been nothing but kind.

Andres, Spain

Excellent - very organized, very flexible. Good job! Fun to work with and I learned a lot.

Julia, Spain

Volunteers showing tourists how to build nests

They are very friendly and dedicated to the job. One notes the passion with which they do their work and it was a pleasure to learn from them how to run a conservation project.

Harriet, UK

I am very grateful for everything. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you!

Barbara, Hungary

All in all best volunteer experience yet!

Olivia, USA

Amazing people and amazing place. Overall once of the best experiences of my life!

Playing with the local children

Margarita, Bulgaria

All the coordinators were amazing, and the locals were very friendly too. Beautiful facility.

Helena, Australia

The floating river tour is awesome! Best experience of my life feeling really full of nature.

Alexandra, UK

The tours were excellent and flexible.

Charles, France

They were all very friendly and helpful. Thank you for your positive attitudes and for being mindful to those on a budget by scheduling fun activities and excursions around the camp and village.

Painting faces at the tree festivalKelly, UK

Thank you for sharing your passion and experience about the turtle program, ecotourism and the community. It has been an amazing, enriching experience.

Mikhaila, Australia

I never want to leave!                                        

Sara, Spain

How to Join

Volunteers on Rio Oro Beach

If you are interested in volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica along the beautiful Drake Bay and Rio Oro Beach, you will need to fill out the online application form – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay the final balance 1 month before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive a detailed information package on the programme background and scientific objectives, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc. Upon arrival at the project, all volunteers are asked to sign a Code of Conduct document. 

 

Apply Now

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