Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme, Costa Rica

2 -12 weeks from

£18 +
minimum age

  • Experience the amazing phenomenon of nature called "Arribadas"
  • Cultural exchange with a Costa Rican family in a homestay setting
  • Long term Research Assistant positions also available
  • This project was featured on BBC4's Secrets from the Nest

"Truly exceptional and something I will cherish forever"

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My time in Ostional, Costa Rica, was truly unforgettable. As the second largest nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtles, this tiny village holds immense potential for sustainable growth and conservation efforts. The community’s connection to nature and sea turtle populations is palpable, and it’s clear that volunteers play a vital role in preserving this unique environment. I highly recommend this project to anyone passionate about sea turtle conservation and eager to engage with local communities.

The research station provided conformable accommodations, although extreme heat in Ostional requires some adjustment. The A/C in the bedrooms was only on during the night, making it challenging to take any naps when needed. Swimming in the ocean is prohibited due to strong currents, but there are other opportunities to cool off. Wildlife sightings, including iguanas, howler monkeys, and even crocodiles in the estuary during the rainy season, added to the richness of the experience. Witnessing the ‘Arribada’, the mass nesting event of olive ridley sea turtles, was truly exceptional and something I will cherish forever.

With a background in Aquatic Conservation and previous experience working with sea turtles, I was able to contribute my expertise to the project. Teaching volunteers about nest excavation and embryo development in the hatchery was immensely fulfilling. While the project has its strengths, there is room for improvement, and I hope to remain engaged to continue sharing initiatives and expertise.

Overall, I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside inspiring individuals from diverse backgrounds who share a common passion for sea turtles. The encouragement to practice Spanish with the locals added an enriching cultural dimension to the experience, making it all the more rewarding.

"Seeing the turtles and being able to work with them is a wonderful experience"

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I had a great time at the project and am very glad I had the opportunity to do it.  The work itself was very mixed and I’m glad I stayed for a month as it gave me a chance to work in pretty much every role without things getting repetitive. The first two weeks involved the basic work of night patrols and beach clean up. This has a lot of walking. We were walking for a sixth of the day, every day. To be honest, most of the days that week I spent sleeping. It was the weekend that really picked me up as we could travel to nearby towns to explore a little more of Costa Rica. I would 100% recommend this as it was a lot of fun and healthy to have breaks from the small village of Ostional.

Seeing the turtles and being able to work with them is a wonderful experience that is definitely once in a life time. As new volunteers would come and see their first turtle they would always say the same thing – just how incredible it is. Especially as Ostional is one of the most important nesting beaches in the world and the whole concept of arribadas – nature actually is crazy. That week I saw a leatherback turtle which I can’t even begin to describe but the experience really did seem magical. Every now and then we were also able to release the babies that had recently hatched – which is really what the people are there for. Truly memorable and heart warming experiences.

Week 4 was definitely the best. The arribada finally came and thousands and thousands of turtles came up onto the beach – even in the dry season. Turtles were even out in the day time! It was a lot of work but so amazing to see.

Being in Ostional and volunteering at the station isn’t easy. Its physically and emotionally draining. But after a hard day of work, being able to jump straight into the sea and watch the sun go down, you remember that what you are doing is beneficial and you really are in paradise. I really would recommend it to anyone.

"I left the project feeling I had gained a real understanding"

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The Olive Ridley project in Costa Rica is not for the faint hearted. It involved a lot of walking on soft sand beaches and some rather smelly excavations of old sea turtle nest, amongst other tasks. However, I had a brilliant time. The staff were helpful, friendly and supportive. Most night patrols we only encountered one turtle but on my final patrol, an arribada occurred, so I was able to experience hundreds of turtles on the beach at one time. A true spectacle. I left the project feeling I had gained a real understanding of the sea turtles and had played an active role in ongoing scientific research. Staying with a local family was at times challenging, not least as I spoke no Spanish and they spoke no English, but it was an excellent way to understand more about the local way of life and I really enjoyed the experience.

"We all had a wonderful time in Costa Rica"

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I am really appreciated for your help and Marta’s help. We all had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. Even when we just stayed for about 12 days, we have built a strong relationship to this village and this project. It will always be the treasure of my whole life, and this experience will forever be memorised. We all wish this Sea Turtle Conservation project will have continuous success.

"This was the trip of a lifetime"

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Thank-you for this wonderful experience. I’m not only proud but honoured to have worked with the endangered turtle species of Latin America. This was the trip of a lifetime, as I was brought closer to others from other countries. I was equally brought closer to the breathtaking nature of Costa Rica. A journey I would only dream of being able to relive.

"I learned a lot about conservation and working together with a community"

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Over the course of two weeks, I was lucky enough to experience the incredible wildlife and Pura Vida culture in Ostional. I participated in early morning patrols, night patrols, nest excavations, and nest density digs, and even saw both hatchling turtles and an arribada. In other words, I got to experience every single possible role a volunteer with this program can undergo! I learned a lot about conservation and working together with a community and researchers to benefit both the wildlife and humans in a fragile area. The dry season weather was incredibly hot but the ocean was lovely (you had to stay pretty shallow in the rough, albeit fun, surf). The turtles were absolutely fascinating and being up close and learning about both the mothers and hatchlings was eye opening.

I would not recommend this to experience for anyone squeamish, however, and you had to accept the cycle of life and death and realise the bigger picture. I experienced some culture shock the first couple of days with my host family, but they were absolutely lovely. Extremely welcoming and kind. The food was traditional, nothing fancy but good and large portions of course! Volunteers through other organisations stayed at the research station itself, but I would not trade my experience staying with a local family, as it was very eye opening and allowed me to better experience the Tico lifestyle. The area is rugged and beautiful, with other beaches and areas to explore short bus ride away. Overall I fell in love with the area, the wildlife, and the culture.

Thank you WorkingAbroad! I will be back!

"Our host family was so generous to us"

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We have now returned home to New York and wanted to send you a note to say thank you for giving us this opportunity to participate in the volunteer programme and helping to organise logistics for our stay.

What an amazing journey the past few weeks have been working closely with research assistants and volunteers who share a common passion for conserving the environment and protecting the populations of Olive Ridley sea turtles. We were incredibly lucky to have arrived in time to witness an arribada! It was truly an unforgettable experience working alongside these beautiful sea turtles to obtain all the biomimetic data needed to further understand their nesting behaviours.

Throughout our time volunteering, we were assigned a diverse variety of tasks which enabled us to learn a lot of the aspects involved in conservation; night patrol, beach cleanup, nest excavations, database management, patrol backpack preparation, morning beach census, etc. Also, our host family was so generous to us. We enjoyed the opportunity to practice our Spanish, taste home cooked traditional Costa Rican cuisine, and gain a deeper understanding as to how the locals keep sustainability as a top priority. We hope to instill the same efforts where we live. New York City is an urban environment that is in serious need of conservation management.

Overall, words cannot describe how touched we are from this trip. It was eye opening and we are appreciative for this experience. Two weeks went by way too fast and we hope to return to Costa Rica again soon

"The beach is awesome and walking it every night was beautiful, especially with a full moon!"

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My name is Danette and I just returned from my Olive Ridley sea turtle WorkingAbroad project in Playa Ostional, Costa Rica! I loved it!!! I volunteered to work every night (you don’t have to) just to see everything I could possibly see! It was like living in a sea turtle documentary! I saw, and assisted with, nesting, clutch-laying, measuring, tagging, we saw 8 babies emerge from their nest and make the journey to the ocean, nest excavation (gross, but very interesting), beach clean up, “turtle talk” lectures, day trips to nearby beaches, and a snorkelling trip with the turtles! The beach is awesome and walking it every night was beautiful, especially with a full moon! The staff at the station, and my fellow volunteers, were all wonderful! I did a home stay to be able to learn more Spanish. My host family was great and I was able to learn a lot! I spent most of my days, between meals, at the station with the other volunteers, and made some great friends! I was there for two weeks, but there were some volunteers there for months! On my last morning, I got to witness the beginning of an arribada and see the turtles during the day! What an awesome cap to a great stay! If you love sea turtles, you will love this project!

"Many memories will be held close to my heart"

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My time here in Ostional is sadly coming to a close. I would like say a massive thanks to the team for making my experience here an amazing one! You guys have the drive and passion rarely seen by most and it was an honour to work alongside such a just cause. To my new friends and volunteers. You guys rock!!! Each and everyone of you can hold your heads up high for getting involved and being truly honest down to earth people. And my host Dona Cristo. I was treated like a king and more. Much love goes out to you and your family. Many memories will be held close to my heart which I am very grateful to have. Till next time Ostional. Pura Vida!!!!

"It was paradise to be able to walk the beach every day"

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Ostional was perfect, I loved everything about this little village. The beach and surrounding area were incredibly beautiful and it’s so nice that it’s basically untouched, there aren’t many tourists, the locals have a great respect for their village and of course there’s an abundance of wildlife (turtles, crocodiles, monkey, iguanas, birds, fish, etc, etc). It was paradise to be able to walk the beach every day and not really have to worry about safety or your belongings. The locals seemed to know who we were and would watch out for us. It was a bonus that we could swim at the beach safely (even though there are currents and riptides, the surfers showed us where we could swim). I hope that Ostional stays a hidden gem!! The Community was very welcoming, both men and women, everyone said hello while passing on the street, in the local market or on the beach and many would try to strike up conversation which was really nice. I was only there two weeks but there were a few people who stopped by my homestay every day and we practiced English and Spanish (They were relatives or good friends of Flor and Louis, my homestay family), as well as locals who would come to the Patrol Station and practice language with us. The community seemed happy to have us there especially when they learned we were volunteering. There was an Arribada while we were there and the local community pulled together to collect the eggs, it was pretty amazing to see and they didn’t have any problem with us taking photos or asking questions to learn about the process.

Flor and Louis (and their boys) were excellent hosts. I had my own room outside of the house with a fan and a little fridge and it was perfect. The house was lovely and clean. Flor cooked, cleaned and did my laundry (she wouldn’t let me help!). This house is very busy, they are on the main road and there’s always lots of young people hanging out there with the boys which I thought was great because they would teach me about surfing, we would practice Spanish and there was always something to do! It was a bit noisy but when I was trying to sleep for my shifts they would respect that. Flor made excellent meals, it was a bit of an adjustment to get used to the rice and beans that came with every meal (I wouldn’t normally eat that three times a day), but that’s their diet and I understand that so just went with it. The only thing I would have changed about the food was that I would have liked to have been able to pick/serve my own portions. Flor served me my meals (just as she serves meals to her family) and she always served me far too much food! I tried telling her that the portions were too big but they always came out the same size. I didn’t want to be rude or waste food so I would just eat it all (maybe that was my mistake?). This made it hard to do my shifts at night because I was so full, hehe. The last week I found a solution to this issue, I would only eat breakfast and one other meal a day, around 3 or 4pm (and that was honestly enough for me!) because the portions were so big!! So it worked out. Flor and I struggled a bit at first with communication because I only speak Basic Spanish and she doesn’t speak English but by the end of the first week we had our basic phrases down and she even said she could finally understand me! I would definitely recommend having volunteers stay with them, it was a wonderful experience they treated me like part of the family and that was part of what made this experience so wonderful. I wouldn’t mind at all if you told them that either.

The project went beyond my expectations. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going in but came out with so much knowledge and having had one of the best experiences. I felt the project was extremely well run and really focused on conservation, they have done all of their research ahead of time and know what works and what doesn’t. The training with Yeudi and Ryan was great (we loved building the sand turtle), Wagner was there during our first few days which was nice, he gave us all kinds of information about the project and about turtles. Our patrol and hatchery schedules were always posted in advance and all excavations and beach slope measurement was done with the Research Assistants, we were never sent out to do anything on our own and they always encouraged us to get involved and help out. The Research Assistants were amazing! They never complained about anything, they just got right in there and did what needed to be done (patrols, excavations, nesting, beach slope measurement in the blazing hot sun, etc), they were always motivated, all of them. The local Research Assistants Yeudi, Jairo and MacDonald were fantastic, they taught us so much about life in Ostional, turtles and Spanish, they made every day and every patrol fun while always remaining professional. I think it’s fantastic that they are all practicing their English and really encouraged us to speak in Spanish, we would practice languages during our patrols which helped to break up the time. It was much harder to patrol than I thought it would be because of the high and low tides, the huge driftwood scattered across the beach, the beach slope and how dark it gets at night (never mind the millions of turtles on the beach during the Arribada!) I was exhausted by the end of my first week and desperately needed a day off (which we got). After our day and a half off I felt fully recharged to patrol. Yeudi is doing an amazing job as the Coordinator, especially for someone so young. Anything that was needed, anything at all (even on his day off) and he was there. I thought it was a very rewarding experience so much so that I’d love to volunteer again next year.

"The village and its people were really nice, friendly and welcoming"

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Both Marit and myself truly loved our two weeks in Ostional.

The village and its people were really nice, friendly and welcoming. It felt safe there, even when walking back and forth to the station alone in the middle of the night.

Our homestay was fantastic, we truly enjoyed staying there. Couldn’t have hoped for a better homestay. Very sweet, and kind family who made us feel welcome. And we really loved the food Marilyn prepared for us. It was really nice that we both could stay in the same homestay, as my friend was more fluent in Spanish than me.

The project was a great experience. Both staff and volunteers were really nice and had a lot of knowledge they shared with us. During our two week stay we learnt a lot about the three kinds of turtles that come to Ostional beach. We got to see all kinds – Leatherbacks, Blacks an Olive Ridleys, and help out on patrols, do hatchery shifts, excavations and measuring beach slope. Truly special.

Marta and Wagner picked us up when going to Ostional, so that worked very well. And we were three volunteers who took a taxi to Samara when leaving. Our homestay helped us with that. I only have positive things to say about our stay in Ostional, and I wish I could have stayed longer. Our last week of travelling in Costa Rica was nice too, but nothing like the two weeks in Ostional.

People in Ostional live life at a slower pace than what we are used to, and less materialistic. Happiness is for sure not defined by the amount of things we own, yet our stay there made me more grateful for all the opportunities I have had in life so far when it comes to education, career, travelling etc..

Thank you for your help with arranging our stay in Ostional! I will truly recommend Working abroad to friends!

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme, Costa Rica

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