Once so abundant that early explorers described them as traveling in fleets, Caribbean sea turtles have been hunted nearly to extinction in the last few centuries for their meat and eggs. The black sand beach of Tortuguero is one of the last strongholds of these gentle creatures, and more green turtles nest there than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.
In addition to the green turtles, each year huge leatherback sea turtles lumber ashore in the darkness to lay their eggs. Nesting time is the only time they climb onto dry land, which makes seeing one a rare and wondrous experience. The effort required to drag themselves out of the water and onto the beach is tremendous considering these giants of the ocean can measure nearly ten feet in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Known for their leather-like shells and gentle nature, leatherbacks are the largest and widest-ranging of the seven sea turtle species.
The Florida-based, non-profit Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), which has been tagging and monitoring the nesting green turtles of Tortuguero for 40 years, and the nesting leatherbacks since 1995, collects data on these animals that helps form management and conservation plans to help save these magnificent creatures. However, CCC can’t do it without help.
“That’s where research volunteers come in,” said Dan Evans, CCC’s Field Programs Coordinator. “We have miles of beach to cover and need people to help researchers with monitoring and recording data about the turtles. The experiences people have with the turtles and the knowledge that they helped to save an endangered species is their lasting reward for helping continue the research.”
Besides field work with the turtles, volunteers are offered field trips, including guided hikes and boat tours, through the tropical rainforest of beautiful Tortuguero National Park. Turtle research is conducted at night, so days are free for exploring and enjoying the sights and sounds of the remote Caribbean coastal community.
No experience is necessary to participate in the program, but volunteers should be physically fit. The program fee, a portion of which is tax deductible, covers accommodations in San Jose, all in-country travel, meals and dormitory style lodging at STC’s Biological Field Station. Volunteers can come for one-, two- or three-week sessions from late March to mid-June for the Leatherback Turtle Season and from late June through October for the Green Turtle Season. STC also offers a Migrant Bird Research Program as well.
For information about becoming a research participant, please check out STC’s Adventurous Eco-Volunteer Research Participant Programs, or call CCC at 1-800-678-7853 to request a brochure or check program dates. You can also email Dan Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org