Leatherback Turtle Eco-Volunteer Program

Leatherback Turtles in Soropta Beach

Go wild with sea turtles! Experience travel with a splash of conservation by participating in STC’s Leatherback Turtle Eco-Volunteer Program in Soropta Beach, Panama.

This fun and educational opportunity blends research with an exotic location to get you involved in protecting endangered sea turtles.

$700 - 5 night program

5 Nights at STC’s Research Station (Lodging & Meals) and Research Training. Meet in Bocas del Toro.

The black sand beach of Soropta draws one of the largest nesting population of leatherback sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. Weighing up to 1,000 pounds, leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtles in the world.

STC studies have solved many of the mysteries of leatherback turtle reproductive ecology and behavior. Monitoring and tagging at Soropta during the nesting months facilitates monitoring of the nesting population to evaluate the survival status of the species. Eco-Volunteer Participants will work with nesting turtles weighing up to 1,000 pounds and measuring 5 to 6 feet in length.

Eco-Volunteer Participants will assist with:

Nightly beach patrols
Work as part of a nesting survey team to help tag and record data about the nesting turtles. This includes measuring turtles, counting eggs, and marking nests. The presence of tagging teams on the beach also acts as a strong deterrent to illegal hunting and egg collectors.

Morning nest surveys

Walk the beach in  the morning to check the status of marked nests and count leatherback tracks and nests from the previous night.

Nest inventories

Assist with determination of nest survivorship and hatching success through nest inventories.

Images of the Leatherback Turtle Program.

Eco-Volunteers must be 16 years or older. This experience is ideal for educators, couples, spring breakers, groups, or anyone who is interested in helping sea turtles and making a difference. Discounts are available for groups of six or more. If under 18, must be traveling with an adult.

A passport valid through the date of return is required. Non-U.S. citizens should contact the Panama Embassy for visa requirements. Upon registering, you will be sent a Field Station Manual providing packing tips, travel information, STC policies and site information.

You are volunteering to join a field research team which has specific physical demands that you should be aware of.

We need you to accurately evaluate your ability to meet the conditions detailed below in order to safeguard your health and safety, and ensure that you can participate fully and effectively. If you feel you do not meet these considerations, please reconsider taking part in this program.

Sea Turtle Conservancy’s research programs are scientific research projects, not guided tours. STC makes every effort to describe field conditions accurately, but fieldwork in remote locations is a delicate business and prone to last-minute change, flexibility is a must. STC’s programs are not package holidays! You will be assisting researchers with scientific field work at a remote field station, and when not working you will have unsupervised free time to relax and enjoy the nature surrounding you.

Phobias to snakes and insects may pose a problem, although encounters with snakes are unlikely. If you are allergic to insect bites, bees or wasps please come prepared with appropriate medication or epi-kit. To avoid dehydration and other heat related you must bring a water bottle in order to stay hydrated during field activities. Diabetics without previous experience of how physical exertion in a hot climate may affect their insulin levels are advised to speak with a doctor.

The minimum age for participants is 18 years old without a parent or legal guardian and 16 years old with a parent or legal guardian.

While there are no extreme physical conditioning or psychological demands, be sure you are able to walk at least 5 or 7 miles of beach each night for 4 or 5 hours. You must have good night vision, you will be walking without a flashlight at night during the patrols. You should be able to carry about a 5 lb pack (backpacks are used to carry the team’s field equipment) while walking on sand. Walking on uneven sand is difficult and not recommended for people with heart conditions, prosthetic limbs, or limited mobility. Phobias about being in the dark may pose a problem. Minor injuries or scrapes due to falls or tripping over obstacles on the beach can occur during nighttime work. Please also be aware that there is a good chance of getting sand thrown on you, with the possibility of getting it in your eyes, by a turtle’s flippers.

This is an exciting way to participate in sea turtle conservation while vacationing in an exotic, tropical location. What makes STC’s Eco-Volunteer program even better is that your money will be supporting sea turtle conservation at one of the most important nesting beaches in the Western Hemisphere. Plus, a portion of your fee is tax deductible!

Download Leatherback Turtle Program Itinerary

Nesting season for leatherback turtles runs from March through June each year. Eco-Volunteer Adventures run from March through July. 1 week session only.

2021 Leatherback Turtle Sessions
April 11 – 16, 2021
April 18 – 23, 2021
April 25 – 30, 2021
May 2 – 7, 2021
May 9 – 14, 2021
May 16 – 21, 2021
May 23 – 28, 2021
May 30 – June 4, 2021
June 6 – 11, 2021
June 13 – 18, 2021
June 20 – 25, 2021
June 27 – July 2, 2021
July 4 – 9, 2021
July 11 – 16, 2021
July 18 – 23, 2021

Day 1 (Sunday) : Bocas del Toro & Soropta Beach
You will meet up with the STC research team in Bocas del Toro for your boat ride to STC ‘s Field station at Soropta Beach. Field training and first night of beach patrol. Overnight at STC (L, D)

Day 2-5 (Monday – Thursday) : Soropta Beach
You will have the next four days on your own during the day and evening research patrols. Overnight at STC (B, L, D)

Day 6 (Friday) : Bocas del Toro
Today you will return to Bocas del Toro.

Meals: B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner

Please plan to arrive in Bocas del Toro either the afternoon of the day before the start date (Sunday) of the program session OR the morning of the start date of the program session. You will arrive back in Bocas del Toro in the morning of the last date (Friday) listed for the program session.

The costs of running a field station to enable scientists to conduct research are substantial. Some costs are covered by grants, and funds secured by the STC, and some by the fees paid by research eco-volunteer participants.

For the 2020 field season, the fee for a 5-night program is US$700 per person. Group rate also available, please contact STC at stc@conserveturtles.org.

You are responsible for all of your travel (international and in-country) to Bocas del Toro, Panama where you will meet with STC staff.

What is included in the cost:
  • STC boat transport to Soropta Beach from Bocas del Toro;
  • All meals and accommodations while at STC’s Research Station in Soropta Beach;
  • A tax-deductible donation in support of STC’s sea turtle research and conservation efforts in Soropta Beach;
What is not included in cost:
  • Your round trip International Air Transportation to and from Tocumen International Airport at Panama City, Panama;
  • Hotel accommodations in Panama City, Panama or Bocas del Toro, Panama;
  • Flights between Panama City and Bocas del Toro on Air Panama;
  • All in-country transfers between airports and hotels.
  • Items of a personal nature, phone calls and tips;
  • Passport fees or fees not listed in the program;
  • Meals while not at the STC station.
Cancellations & Refunds:
  • A refund of the paid program fee, less a $50 administrative fee, will be made if cancellation is received in writing no less than 60 days prior to arrival.
  • Cancellations between 60 and 15 days prior to arrival will have a $150 fee imposed unless a replacement is found.
  • If a written cancellation is received less than 15 days prior to arrival, a credit of the paid program fee, less a $100 administrative fee, is given towards a session at a later date.

Eco-volunteers will stay at STC’s Soropta Biological Field Station, located in a tropical rainforest setting, and just steps from the black sand beach. There is only one type of accommodation available at Soropta Beach, very rustic. 

Housing is dorm-style living, includes bunk beds with up to 4 people per room and a community bathroom. You will need to bring your own mosquito net for sleeping. (STC has some mosquito nets at the station, please check with STC for availability.)

There is no electricity, plumbing or potable water. There are rain barrels that can be used to fill toilets and for showers. If the rain barrels are empty, a well provides water for toilets and to wash. This is a rustic station. Meals, prepared Panamanian-style by a local cook, are served three times a day

Images of STC’s Soropta Beach Research Station.

To reserve your place in one of the above research sessions, contact Sea Turtle Conservancy directly as soon as possible by phone or email or our convenient online form.

To register:
1) Submit the Online Registration Form or call STC at 352-373-6441 for initial registration, confirmation of dates, and contact number for travel information.

2) Secure your reservation with a $200 deposit as soon as possible.

Receive training in sea turtle field biology and conservation.

Days are yours to relax, explore the area, and talk with biologists.

Experience very rustic, but comfortable, shared housing.

At the station, enjoy authentic Caribbean Panamanian dishes

Includes land and boat transport to Tortuguero, return flight to San José.

Nightly hands on field research with nesting leatherback turtles.