Work to conserve green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast AND get career training from Conservation Careers!
Travel to Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park to assist with the conservation of critically endangered hawksbills, endangered green sea turtles, and vulnerable leatherbacks. Develop key research skills while monitoring beaches for mother turtle tracks and nests.
Run in conjunction with the Sea Turtle Conservancy and Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications, MINAET, this project allows participants the opportunity to observe nesting and hatching sea turtles in their natural habitat while making a contribution to their preservation, gaining valuable conservation knowledge and skills in the process.
Every year from April to October mother turtles come to Tortuguero beach to lay their eggs. Leatherbacks and Hawksbills tend to come earlier in the season, whereas green turtles tend to arrive later. After an intensive training program, including learning about turtle biology, behaviour, and global abundance as well as research methods used on the project, you will form part of a group of participants conducting night-time patrols on the tropical beach looking for nesting mother sea turtles, their tracks and whether any sea turtles have been preyed upon by jaguars. In the event of finding a mother turtle during your patrol, you may assist the Patrol Leader with measuring the turtle, counting the eggs being laid, looking for previous tags and distinctive markings and recording the data. This will help researchers with determining the number of turtles returning to the beach, and the number of new ones, how they are spread out across the nesting season, and how migrations between beaches work. During morning patrols, you will work with other participants to identify nests. Depending on the season, you may also be lucky enough to see and record the juvenile turtles emerging from the nest and record data on hatchling success, poaching rates, and mortality rates. When not conducting surveys, the rest of your time will be spent at our base, processing data and getting to know your fellow participants from all around the world.
Even though turtle conservation will be a main part of your activities, you might also have the opportunity to conduct jaguars and aquatic birds research, as well as carrying out biological assessment surveys of the area, contributing to long-term conservation efforts along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. In the process you will gain an holistic understanding of the rainforest ecosystem and master skills that will aid you in pursuing a career in conservation.
Due to the fact you will work in a national park, you will need special scientific permit to approve you for conducting research. Further permits are required for turtle and jaguar research. The permit for turtle research takes about one month to process, while the permit for conducting jaguar research takes about 2 to 3 months to process.
- The opportunity to witnessing the entire nesting process and conduct hands-on sea turtle research.
- Between July and October there is also the possibility of witnessing hatchling emerge from their nest to make their way to the ocean.
- Observe Costa Rican wildlife species in their natural habitats, including sea turtles on the Carribean beach, and monkeys, neo-tropical birds, and amphibians in the caponies above rainforest canals.
- Visit an incredibly jaguar-dense area and one of the only locations in the world where jaguars are known to prey on adult sea turtles.
- Explore the rainforest by canoe and walk the pristine Caribbean beaches.
- Learn biodiversity survey techniques and gain real field experience.
- Undertake turtle nesting surveys and monitor nesting sites during turtle nesting season.
- Contribute to jaguar research by setting up and checking camera traps in the rainforest.
Our Award-winning Partner
Conservation Careers has teamed up a family-run organisation with an amazing culture and an awesome team of people across the world who are passionate experts in their chosen field and will make your experience a truly unforgettable one (in a good way).
Their award-winning projects receive over 2000 participants every year, and we’re proud to say that the vast majority of them describe their experience with them as ‘life changing’. Their approval rate from over 20 000 participants since 1997 is over 95%.
A key component of the success of their community development and conservation projects is the participants who join their programs. Opportunities include high impact volunteering from one week and up, internships for those looking for career development opportunities, Challenges that allow a one week adventure all for a good cause and a range of programs for school groups and younger volunteers.
If you register your interest below, we’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip!
Life on base
Our base in Tortuguero National Park is the perfect way to unplug and get in touch with the natural environment. It is located in the heart of the jungle on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, an hour’s boat ride from the nearest small town. Field work includes walking the the protected beaches looking for signs of turtles and jaguars, traveling on canoe through the foliage-draped canals spotting aquatic bird species, and, if you are lucky, a manatee in the water below, or trekking through the jungle spotting and noting everything from howler monkeys, sloths, tamanduas anteaters, and toucans. Don’t forget to pack your camera. Some patrols are conducted in the morning or at night, which means you could experience spectacular sunsets and sunrises over the Caribbean sea. In your free time, relax at our small camping-style base, which is solar-powered and designed to have as minimal an impact on the natural environment as possible. We are much like a big family on base, and share cooking and tidying duties. Get to know our staff and team members from all around the world who share the same interest in wildlife and passion for conservation as you.
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Tortuguero National Park is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts. It is a popular nesting area for vulnerable and endangered sea turtles. It is also a natural stronghold for jaguars and the only place where these cats are known to prey on sea turtles. It is also home to several insect, amphibian, reptile, mammal, and bird species identified as important or the health of the local ecosystem, global diversity, and international research by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications or MINAET.
Rainforest Biodiversity Surveys
We assist MINAET with conducting a Biological Assessment Survey or BAS of the four major habitat types around our area of Tortuguero Park. We note a wide range of species on our surveys which are of interest to MINAET including the Rain Frog, Red-eyed Treefrog, two species of Toucan, Baird’s Tapir, Spider Monkey, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-lipped Peccary, Eyelash Palm Pitviper. Staff and participants walk a several marked path in the forest noting sighting, tracks, and vocalisations. Only species identified with 100% certainty can be recorded. The data is sent to MINAET who use a standardised methodology to monitor the condition of each trail over time. This helps them to understand the health of the local environment and whether their current conservation efforts are working.
Sea Turtle Research
We also assist the Sea Turtle Conservancy, or STC, with sea turtle research and protection, by patrolling the Southern end of 18 mile stretch of Tortuguero National Park using internationally recognised protocols during turtle nesting and hatching season, from around March to December each year. The STC patrols the northern stretch.
Tortuguero has played a key part in the conservation of sea turtles worldwide. Archie Carr, the pioneering American conservationist, began his studies of green turtles in Tortuguero in 1954 and since 1958 the STC, has continued work on green turtles, which are currently endangered, and the other turtle species, like the critically endangered hawksbill, and vulnerable leatherback, who frequent this area.
From April to October, a team walks the beach each night looking for nesting sea turtles.
Depending on the time of year, it is possible to do several walks without seeing a turtle, or see multiple ones in one night. When a turtle is encountered, different kinds of research activities might be carried out, depending on what stage of the nesting process she is in from emerging from the sea, selecting a nest site, digging a body pit, and digging her egg chamber to laying her eggs, covering her egg chamber, disguising her nest, or returning back to sea. This might include, checking for distinctive markings to see if she has been to the beach before and make a note for future researchers if she returns, tagging her flippers, measuring her carapace, counting her eggs, marking her nest, or checking for abnormalities in the mother turtle or eggs.
From April to November a team patrols the beach during the day to look for nests that were marked previously to determine whether any of the nests have hatched, been eroded by the sea, been attacked by predators like jaguars, or been poached by humans. This information is used to investigate whether any areas of the beach are more susceptible to nest loss. Depending on the season, we also take note of mother turtle tracks from the previous night.
Between June and December, hatched nests are excavated to determine hatchling success and survival rates, reason for losses in egg development, and determine the actual status of the nests including whether or not they were partially or fully poached.
Throughout the year our teams carry out beach cleans to ensure a good nesting place for mother turtles and an uninterrupted passage for hatchlings to make their way to the sea.
Jaguar Population and Turtle Predation Research
The jaguar is the only member of the Panthera or ‘big cat’ genus found in the the Western Hemisphere. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List has given the jaguar the status of being ‘near threatened’.
Tortuguero is a haven for jaguars, having possibly one of the highest populations in the world. This makes it an excellent location for studying jaguar behaviour. However, it also means there is a great responsibility on park authorities and the Costa Rican government to ensure that threats as a result of human activity like poaching, habitat and food source degradation do not threaten jaguar numbers in Tortuguero. Tortuguero is also one of the only places in the world where jaguars are known to feed on adult sea turtles. There has also been concern that the number of sea turtles preyed upon by jaguars has been increasing.
We assist MINAET with estimating the minimum number of jaguars using the coastal habitat inside Tortuguero National Park, identifying the availability of prey species in the area, noting any changes in jaguar feeding behaviour, and determining whether the predation of marine turtles by jaguars is having an impact on the marine turtle populations. This helps the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies. To improve and expand our research, we collaborate with Panthera and Coastal Jaguar Conservation.
Direct observations of jaguars can be very difficult to achieve because of their elusive nature. Several projects of elusive species worldwide have turned to remote observation techniques in order to estimate population sizes, for species in which individuals are identifiable by markings, or relative abundance, for those species in which individuals are not identifiable. Camera trapping projects have been used to estimate tiger density within national parks in India and ocelot densities in the Pantanal region of South America to name a few. Other projects in Costa Rica such as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network, or TEAM Initiative from Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, Jaguar Project in Corcovado National Park have also had success with camera trapping of jaguars. We started our jaguar camera trap program in 2006 and it has been constantly evolving ever since as new, more effective methodologies continue to be developed.
From February to November, our team walks a 15-mile stretch of the beach starting in the early morning to note jaguar tracks and check on permanent camera traps set up to ID new or known jaguars in the area. Permanent cameras are set up in areas of known jaguar activity in the vegetation lining the beach. A scent station might be included to halt the jaguar in their progress so that a clearer picture of their rosette pattern markings can be taken for use in identification. We also collect jaguar scat or faeces for use in jaguar feeding behaviour and genetic studies.
During turtle nesting season, from March to October, we also monitor the number of sea turtles preyed upon by jaguars. When a predated turtle is found we note the species of turtle, assign an identification number, and check for tags. We also record the time and location, biometric data, and a description of the style of predation. Killcams are set up on predated turtles to witness jaguar behavior as they return to the kill. In addition, data is collected on weather and beach conditions at specific areas.
Aquatic Bird Research
We also monitor 30 aquatic bird species identified by MINAET as important indicators of the ecological health of the National Park as a whole. These include exotic ave species like the neotropic cormorant, the rufescent tiger-heron, the cattle egret, the green ibis, and the amazon kingfisher. Early morning surveys are conducted on canoe along five of Tortuguero’s canals and last approximately 3 hours. Species are identified and specifics such as their sex and breeding behaviour are noted. The aim of this project is to help researchers and governmental authorities understand when and where resident species migrate to. It is generally believed that seasonal migration takes place within Costa Rica but details are lacking. It also helps MINAET with developing an accurate management plan for Tortuguero National Park. In addition, we collect information on all incidental species seen on the canals. Sightings of megafauna like endangered manatees are extremely important to MINAET as they provide evidence towards justifying the boundaries of the National Park and whether to extend them.
As such, the specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal we work on in Tortuguero park is #15, Life On Land.
Jalova’s Long-term Objectives:
- Increase scientific knowledge of Tortuguero National Park.
- Increase awareness of our Jalova projects and the ecological value of the Tortuguero National Park.
- Build local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica.
- Continue to minimize our environmental impact on Tortuguero National Park and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst volunteers and visitors.
Joining a program not only allows participants to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer.
Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.
Just South of Cahuita National Park is possibly the most popular beach destination on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica among international visitors, this town is known for Punta Uva beach, miles of pearly white sand lined with palm trees, excellent surfing conditions, and hip eateries. The famously advanced surfing spot known as Salsa Brava can be found here.
White water rafting
Organise a trip for the adrenaline-inducing journey over the rapids of the Pacuare River. You will also have the opportunity to spot many rainforest species on your trip including birds and monkeys.
Cahuita National Park
South along the Carribean coast, you will find Cahuita, popular among visitors because you can snorkel among the protected coral reef off its coast, spotting uncommon marine species.
Tortuguero Hill hike
Trek to the top of the ancient dormant volcano that is Tortuguero hill. You will be rewarded with a magnificent view stretching from the hectares of jungle to the shores of the Caribbean sea.
Zipline rainforest canopy tour
Experience the wonders of the rainforest from a different perspective. Book a treetop canopy tour of Tortuguero National Park.
An hour’s motorboat ride away from our base in Tortuguero National Park, the town of Tortuguero, offers an insight into the laidback pura vida lifestyle of Costa Rica. Practice your Spanish and taste some Costa Rican delicacies.
Surfing, windsurfing, kayaking are just some of the many water sports you can enjoy on either of Costa Rica’s two coasts.
Coffee and chocolate farms
Learn more about how the raw products of these mouthwatering delicacies are produced at one of Costa Rica’s many coffee and chocolate farms.
Explore the natural wonders of the Talamanca mountain range, including the UNESCO protected La Amistad International Park. While in the area learn about the history and customs of the the Naso, Bribri, and Ngöbe-Buglé people, who have lived for centuries in the region.
Other National Parks
Travel to Costa Rica’s many other National Parks, like Manuel Antonio park, Corcovado National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where you can visit the hummingbird gallery, or Braulio Carrillo National Park.
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but adaptability and critical thinking, skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in your free time, or before and after your program. On our community programs the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.
The name ‘Tortuguero’ can be translated as ‘land of the turtles’. The park is most well-known for its green turtle population, but leatherbacks, hawksbills, and even the occasional loggerhead frequent its beaches. Despite being incredibly remote, Tortuguero is one of the most frequently visited in Costa Rica and it isn’t difficult to understand why. It has an incredibly high density of jaguars and is one of the only locations in the world where jaguars are known to prey on sea turtles. Its wide range of habitats including rainforests, beaches, and mangrove wetlands also allow many other species to flourish like the endangered great green macaw and even manatees.
Costa Rica is wildlife lover’s paradise, featuring one the highest biodiversities in the world, approximately four percent of the total species on the planet. There are literally hundreds of species which can only be found here. More bird species call this nation home than the entire North America, the United States and Canada combined. Researchers attribute this natural wealth to the country’s plethora of habitats and its location between the South and North American continent.
BONUS! Kick-starter online training for Early Career Conservationists (worth £295)
Feeling lost in your conservation job hunt? Want to work in conservation, but don’t know where to start? Get your career on track with the Kick-starter online training for Early Career Conservationists designed to help you understand the job market, to navigate your career options, and to get hired more quickly.
Whether you’re at university and planning your next steps, a graduate in the job hunt or working in an unrelated job but interested to switch into conservation, this course is designed to help you.
This unique online course has been designed to increase your chances of success, and is being specially organised and run by Conservation Careers.
All you need to do is register your interest in the project below, and if you choose to make a booking we’ll save a place for you on our course when you get back from your placement.
Included in the course is a year’s full-access membership of the Conservation Careers Academy, which includes access to over 8,000 jobs, 1,500 training courses, live training events and many more career-boosting options.
Duration, dates and costs
Start dates are as follows:
- 2021: 29 May; 12 Jun; 26 Jun; 10 Jul; 24 Jul; 07 Aug; 21 Aug; 04 Sep; 18 Sep
- 2022: 01 Apr; 15 Apr; 29 Apr; 13 May; 27 May; 10 Jun; 24 Jun; 08 Jul; 22 Jul; 05 Aug; 19 Aug; 02 Sep; 16 Sep; 30 Sep; 14 Oct
The costs are:
- 2 weeks: £2,095
- 4 weeks: £2,595
- 6 weeks: £3,145
- 8 weeks: £3,695
- 10 weeks: £4,245
- 12 weeks: £4,745
Increasing Employability: Pre Departure Program Training
Our programs are not only life-changing experiences but are also designed to help participants increase their employability. We have developed a curriculum to be completed prior to arrival in the country in order to ensure that more time is dedicated to program work once you commence your volunteer program.
Eight weeks prior to your start date, you will complete the following online courses in preparation for your in-country program:
PRE-DEPARTURE ORIENTATION (1 hour)
PROGRAM SPECIFIC TRAINING (1 – 5 hours)
OPTIONAL: MARINE CONSERVATION COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
In order to obtain a certificate for the Marine Conservation course which is endorsed by the University of Richmond and UNC Charlotte, you will need to complete quizzes & assignments and will be given 4 weeks post program to submit your work.
If you are looking to travel in less than 8 weeks from now, you will still complete the course however this will be done in country and all content will need to be downloaded before arrival.
Health & Hygiene
The work we contribute to across the globe remains important and new measures allow our participants to continue to join our programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. Changes to our existing protocols have been made by our health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities. Please inquire for more information on the protocols.