Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

1 week to 6 months from

16+ individual - for families 7+
minimum age

  • Live in a tropical rainforest reserve on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica
  • Hands on work researching caimans and crocodiles
  • Take part in sea turtle research and patrols
  • Get involved in tree boa, monkey and mammal surveys
  • Exceptional family volunteering opportunities available
  • Coral reef restoration option available for divers

Baby turtle on beach in Costa Rica

About the Playa Tortuga Conservation Project

Conservation volunteers work within a non-profit biological research and education centre, and all food, lodging, training and research will be provided within the reserve. Projects run all year round, except for the sea turtle programme, which runs from July to January only. Conservation volunteers will be able to take part in the projects below:

  • Sea Turtle Conservation Programme
  • Mammal Inventory Monitoring project
  • Crocodilian monitoring – Balso and Tortuga River night kayaking monitoring
  • Capuchin and howler monkey research project
  • Environmental Education & Butterfly Garden Project
  • Tree Boa Research Project
  • Coral Reef Restoration Package
  • Family Volunteering

Volunteers tagging sea turtle

Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Programme

On the South Pacific beaches of Osa Costa Rica there are 4 potential species of sea turtles which can be seen nesting at different times of the year Lora (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green (Chelonia mydas), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). They are all in danger of extinction. Playa Tortuga beach is an olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting beach although it is possible that other species occasionally arrive.

Turtle conservation work in Costa Rica

The nesting period extends from July to December, with the peak of nesting in the months of September and October, during this period it is possible to observe an individual, every other night. Sometimes two or three. In the past two seasons we have successfully protected over 140 nests and released 5,000 plus hatchlings, each nest contains on average 100 eggs. A percentage of nests are moved to the nursery/hatchery where they are observed and protected 24/7. In the hatchery important data about the biology of the turtles nests’ is gathered, such as the incubation period, nest temperature and how this influences the sex of the hatchlings, as well as observing environmental factors such as precipitation and physical environmental factors.


Playa Tortuga hatchery

As part of our volunteering with sea turtles programme, you will have the opportunity to learn about the biology of sea turtles, especially the Pacific Olive Ridley or ‘Lora’ (Lepidochelys olivacea) which is the most common on Playa Tortuga. You will see adults, babies and eggs, and learn about its life cycle. By helping this project you will be part of a serious scientific research project, which provides important data for the conservation of sea turtles. Upon arrival, sea turtle volunteers will receive training about the research project in which they are participating, how to use the equipment, and what work they will do as well as proper behaviour in the field. The volunteer groups will always be working with experienced staff, who will be able to show volunteers proper scientific methods for working with sea turtles, hatchery work, handling nesting females, eggs and data collection.

Miriam volunteer Costa RicaResponsibilities

  • Care and protection of Hatchery and Camp
  • Cleaning and maintenance of the Beach (Playa Tortuga)
  • Assist project biologist with turtle data collection, monitoring (tagging) and management (including hatchling releases)
  • Relocation of eggs to hatchery or safe location on the beach. This is done when it is determined that eggs are threatened by beach erosion, tides, excessive driftwood or poachers.
  • Night patrols on the Beach- Turtle and Poacher Monitoring.

Last season, volunteers helped to release over 2,000 baby sea turtles back into the wild. Volunteers this year will have the target of helping to release even more safely back into the wild!

Mammal Inventory Monitoring Project

White faced capuchin monkey in Costa Rica

Within the Reserve, there are more than 11 species of mammals – the most common being raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, weasels, River Otters, Tayra and Monkeys. Capuchin Monkeys are easy to find into the Reserve forest, others such as Anteaters, Oposums, and Sloths are also common in the area but hard to observe.  There is also evidence of an Ocelot (detected by trail cameras) in the Balso River.  The trail cameras are an excellent tool to determinate the presence, abundance and the density of mammals in the area.  The mammals are important for the forest dynamic balance, and by getting data on their behaviour (diet) and local movements offers information that can be used in reforestation plans for the coastal area to establish Biological Corridors.

Crocodilian Monitoring Volunteer Programme

Bridgwater group at Playa Tortuga

The main objective of this study is collect real information about the Crocodilians at the Reserve area: their distribution, relationship with the environment and the human impact on the ecosystem. Do an initial profile of the population, in order to help the conservation and management of this species adding new information about its condition in the South Pacific of Costa Rica.

Methodology: Equipment, Flash lights, Kayaks, Leather gloves, measuring tape, GPS, Camera.

Collecting data on caimans in Costa RicaBecause it is an initial incursion, the research shall consist, of nocturnal monitoring- two times per week walking or by Kayak (depending of the tide) and detection (with flashlights).  Volunteers will count the number of animals and mark the location with GPS. Small size individuals (less than 1 metre) will be manually captured to determine the species, size, sex and condition.

Capuchin and Howler Monkey Research Project

In 2009, we started recording the presence of one monkey species, the Capuchin monkey (Cebus imitator) in the reserve, and  by 2015 we started to observe Howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) for the very first time in our forest.

Volunteer with monkey research in Costa RicaFor that reason we started to carry out monkeys surveys, twice a week, along the reserve’s forest, looking for the monkey troops.  Once we detect one of the species, we perform observations including number of individuals, males or females, if they are carrying babies or not , their behaviour, if they are resting, eating (type of food eaten), passing by, tree species that they use and so on. We also mark the GPS location of the troop.

The data collected helps us to determine how many monkeys there are, and the size of each troop in the forest, which areas they use and which resources, and over time, we will be able to monitor if we detect any behavioural changes.

Environmental Education Volunteering Project

The necessity for future generations to understand the importance of environmental conservation and natural resources management is essential. It is part of the Reserve’s core mission to educate and actively involve the youth and community at large in these areas, through conducting workshops and activities for children and their families from schools in the region.

Environmental education in Costa RicaAll the running projects at the Reserve have been projected into environmental education programmes, through lectures, guided tours, field trips and volunteering with local schools.

The aim is to create environmental awareness and active stewardship among its visitors, and it is considered that the school community of the Grande de Térraba Circuit is of major importance with regard to this goal, as the children of Osa, are the future heirs of the natural resources that we are working to preserve today.

You will have the opportunity to be part of the workshops, prepare materials, make crafts, conduct and work with children of the schools during the workshops, and participate in the maintenance of our Butterfly garden, data collection, care of pupae, feed and release butterflies, as well as the opportunity to help us care for the plants.  If you have at least basic Spanish for this programme, that would be very helpful.

Butterfly Garden Volunteering Project

Volunteer with butterflies in Costa Rica

The objectives of the Butterfly Garden project is the investigation of native species of butterflies (Siproeta stelenes, Caligo memnon, Heraclides thoas, Dryas iulia) in the reserve and all aspects of their reproductive cycle and plant foods. Environmental education workshops will also take place, whereby members of the local community will visit the garden and volunteers will help to conduct education tours and classes. Volunteers can also help to develop work shops for local schools.

Tree Boa Research Project

Tree boa in Costa RicaVolunteers can join the tree boa research study taking place at night time. These reptiles are an important part of the ecosystem, depending on the wetlands nearby. The aim of the research is to determinate the population size, local movements of the individuals and add more data to the biology of the species by getting morphometric data, to determine aspects such as the sex ratio in the population.

Coral Reef Restoration Package

This is a one-week experience at only specific dates throughout the year where the participants will learn about coral reef restoration techniques in the laboratory and open water. Its an opportunity to gain knowledge about coral fragmentation and its management in the lab and to participate in open water trips to collect samples or to implant coral in the nurseries.

coral reef restoration in Costa RicaApart from the corals, the participants will be able to work on the sea turtle programme, by performing morning census
looking for turtle nests and learning how to manage the nests at the hatchery and potentially participating in baby turtle releases.

During the week you will be working alongside experts in marine biology and master divers, making the trip a real learning experience for people interested in marine conservation in the tropics.  In order to participate, you must be interested in Marine Conservation and diving and have a minimum of the PADI Open Water license or equivalent.   Group sizes are limited to 3 to make it a strong learning experience.  The cost also includes a diving trip to Caño Island and all participants will receive a certificate of participation.

baby turtle in Costa Rica

Family Volunteering

Family volunteering at our Playa Tortuga Conservation Project is very popular, and over the years, we have hosted countless families here.  Children from 7 yrs upwards with parents are most welcome to join. There are activities for all ages, and as the research centre is located right adjacent to the beach and within the rainforest, if kids want to rest/take time out, this option also exists.  Just to be aware, children under 12 yrs old can’t go on the night time turtle walks for security/safety reasons, but can do all the turtle work in the hatchery and with baby turtle releases. We have family and double and single rooms available, but they get booked up quickly and some families tend to book far ahead of time, so please contact us at info@workingabroad.com to check availability if you are interested.

You can also read many of our family testimonials under Reviews including a family who wrote a blog about their experience here to give you an idea of what family volunteering in Costa Rica is like!

“Volunteers make a huge contribution to this programme – over the last 9 years, they have helped to reduce turtle nest poaching by 87%, which has made this beach one of the few places in Costa Rica which is safe for turtles and researchers. At the same time, this has allowed the organisation to protect the habitat of endangered species by carrying new research on these species -this is all thanks to the hard work of our dedicated volunteers!” – Project Director

Playa Tortuga Conservation Volunteer Project, Costa Rica

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