Turtle ConservationCosta Rica

The Turtle Conservation team in Costa Rica protect and conserve the sea turtle populations and work closely with the local community to educate them on the importance of conserving turtles.

You will assist the local team by collecting data, placing eggs in safe hatcheries and patrolling the beaches to reduce the likelihood of the eggs being eaten by animals or taken by members of the local community. Olive Ridley turtles which is the species most frequently found in the area, are categorised as ‘vulnerable’ accordingly to the IUCN Red List, so their protection is vitally important. Volunteers enable more night patrols to occur, which has led to a drop of around 80% in the number of nests that have been taken in the area.

Immerse yourself in rural life and experience the ‘off the beaten track’ side of Costa Rica with secluded beaches and rugged mountain landscapes.

Join the active conservation team to help protect sea turtle populations.

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Key Info

key info
  • Location: Nicoya Peninsula
  • Start dates: Every week on a Monday
  • Duration: 1 – 12 weeks
  • Age requirement: 18+ (5+ for families or groups)
  • Availability: Spaces available Jul - Dec 2021 and 2022
  • Cost: From £995 / €1095 / $1235 - see fees table below
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Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

The project monitors and protects sea turtle populations by collecting data, placing eggs in safe hatcheries and patrolling the beaches to reduce the likelihood of poaching - and has protected and released hundreds of thousands of hatchlings since it started.

Olive Ridley turtles, the species most frequently found in the area, are categorised as ‘vulnerable’ accordingly to the IUCN Red List and their protection is vitally important.

Volunteers help to monitor and maintain the hatcheries, enable additional patrols and assist with the collection of data about nesting turtles which is used to gain an understanding of sea turtle reproductive behaviour and improve their conservation strategies in the future.

Volunteers are allocated to one of the two research bases; North Beach or South Beach, depending on the needs of the project at the time. Work is managed on a rotational basis and there are two main volunteer roles:

Night patrol

Turtle eggs are a valuable commodity and beach patrols reduce the likelihood of eggs being taken by members of the local community or eaten by animals. As Olive Ridley turtles nest primarily after dark, you will assist a research assistant or member staff on a 2-3 hour shift during the evening / early morning. Volunteers are allocated shifts to ensure a continual patrol of the beach can take place from 7pm to 7am.

  • Walk along the length of the beach to look for adult female turtles who are making their way to land in order to nest
  • Collect data on turtles (if encountered) and collect the eggs to be placed in a safe hatchery

Hatchery duty (this is seasonal - see below for more information)

  • Monitoring the hatchery site at regular intervals to check for any new baby turtles which have hatched! This is an incredible experience as there are often around 100 hatchlings in a single nest
  • Recording data on the number of new hatchlings and then releasing them into the ocean

Other roles

Depending on the needs of the project, you may also have the opportunity to assist in the following activities in addition to your hatchery and night patrol duties:

  • Beach clean ups
  • Nest excavations - examining contents of the nest to count the number of eggs and unborn or underdeveloped turtles
  • Local community activities
  • Local reforestation project - planting trees to secure a corridor for monkeys to pass safely between the forest and the beach
  • Assisting the long term research assistants with their own project research

“By having volunteers, work load can be spread more evenly ensuring maximum time spend patrolling the beach which leads to decreased numbers of nests being poached. Our volunteer program has also enabled us to provide jobs for a number of local residents, raising awareness about the importance of the work we do within the small communities surrounding the nesting beaches.”
Lotti, General Manager

Seasonal variations and duration

During July and early August, there is a lot of set up, preparation and construction work that needs to be done in anticipation of the hatchlings so your role will be focussed on this rather than hatchery duty. During this time volunteers are unlikely to see or work with turtles, however the work carried out is vital to ensure hatchlings can be safely placed in a hatchery later in the season. 

Hatchlings usually appear from mid-August until the end of the turtle season in mid December. Nesting peaks during the wet season at the end of September and early October so this is a particularly good time to be at the project as this is when the most turtles are generally seen.

You can join this project for 1 week, but if possible we recommend staying for a minimum of 2 weeks as the nesting activity fluctuates and this increases your chances of seeing a turtle.

Typical day

In your first few days, you will be given an induction to the project and the work rota. You will also receive training on how to complete tasks such as digging turtle nests and releasing hatchlings.

Volunteers work 6 days per week. The majority of nesting and hatching takes place after dark so a significant element of the volunteer role takes place at night and work timings vary with shifts:

  • Night patrols take place every evening between 7pm and 7am (depending on the tides) and volunteers will be given a shift of 2-3 hours, including breaks
  • Hatchery shifts are generally 3 hours long and can be scheduled during the day or night

There is plenty of free time during the daytime and between your scheduled tasks, when you can catch up on sleep and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Other volunteers

There are usually 1-10 volunteers with a maximum of 15 at each project site.

Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) award

This placement has been approved by the DofE as meeting the requirements for the Residential section of the Gold Award.

Local support

You will be working alongside the local team which is made up of local and international staff and research assistants. There is a volunteer coordinator located at both project sites.

Accommodation

There are two accommodation options at the project; the volunteer house and private cabinas. The volunteer house is located on site and the cabinas are a short walk away. All accommodation is located within 100m of the beach!

There are communal areas where volunteers can relax and eat. There is no WIFI at the project site but it is generally available a 5 minute walk away in a nearby bar or hotel (depending on site) which volunteers can access in their free time, provided you buy a drink or food.

The volunteer house consists of simple shared rooms with shared bathrooms.

Volunteer house

The cabinas are a private accommodation option, ideal for families and couples. They consist of bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, a living area and some have kitchen facilities too. There is also a swimming pool at one of the cabinas.

Cabina

Meals

Volunteers are provided ingredients to prepare their own breakfast. Lunch and dinner are prepared by a member of the local community and volunteers eat at the volunteer station.

Here are typical examples of the food you will have: 

  • Breakfast – eggs, pancakes, bread, cereals, fresh fruit
  • Lunch and dinner – a traditional meal of meat, lentils and salads served with rice and beans 

Vegetarians and vegans are welcomed and can be catered for.

The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink and can be kept cool using the fridge provided. 

Location and free time

The project is based in the Nicoya Peninsula on the west coast of Costa Rica by the Pacific Ocean. This is the largest peninsula in the country and is a great location for experiencing an ‘off the beaten track’ escape. The area is often overlooked by travellers allowing you to experience secluded beaches and comprising a wonderful combination of rugged mountains and stunning beaches. There is also abundant birdlife in the area including boobies, cormorants and parakeets.

Beach on Nicoya Peninsula

A significant part of the volunteer role is at night, so volunteers have plenty of free time in the day between their allocated shifts and also have one day off per week. During your free time you may wish to play football and volleyball with volunteers, staff and locals. There are also hammocks available for relaxing and reading a book.

The local team can assist you with organising activities such as mangrove tours, waterfall tours, bird and butterfly watching tours, horse riding and nature walks. These activities are best booked locally once you are at the project.

Due to the location and transport in the area, other free time activities are limited and if you wish to explore more areas of Costa Rica during your trip, we would recommend doing this before or after your placement.

Travelling in Costa Rica before or after your placement

Popular activities in Costa Rica that you might like to combine with your project are:

  • Exploring and looking out for wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park 
  • Visit the spectacular Arenal Volcano and relax in a hot spring
  • See incredible biodiversity and birdlife in Monteverde Cloud Forest

For more information on Costa Rica and some of the things we loved when we visited there please see our Costa Rica country page. This also features all our other Costa Rica volunteering projects as you might like to consider combining this project with one of the others we offer to make a trip of a lifetime!

Mountain landscape in Costa Rica

Climate 

The Nicoya Peninsula has a tropical climate. Temperatures are warm throughout the year and average between 22-30˚C but due to the humidity (approximately 80-100%) it can feel much warmer. There can be tropical rain showers at any time of year but the main rainy season is from August to October and the heaviest rainfall coincides with the peak in turtle activity seen in September and October.  

Dates

Start dates are every Monday. The project is closed to volunteers from mid-December to early July each year.

What's Included

Included

  • Dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist to support you
  • Airport pick up from San Jose airport and return transfer
  • Hotel on first and last night in San Jose
  • Transfer to and from bus station and return bus from San Jose to project (or a private transfer can be arranged for an additional fee)
  • Accommodation - a shared or private room
  • Food - all main meals whilst at the project
  • Induction
  • T-shirt
  • Support from the local team
  • Support from the Pod Volunteer UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Donation to Pod Environmental Fund supporting reforestation in Belize and solar lights in Ghana
  • Volunteering certificate and reference (on request)

Not included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa (if required)
  • Vaccinations and medication
  • Living costs - food when not at project site, snacks, drinks, laundry
  • Any tourist trips / activities you choose to do in your free time
Price table
1 week £995 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £495 GB Pounds

Accommodation

There is an additional fee for the cabina option – please contact us for details.

Discounts

  • £75 discount for every additional project you book as part of the same trip
  • £100 discount for any family members who are 12 - 17 years old
  • £200 discount for any family members who are under 12 years old
  • £75 discount if you have previously volunteered with Pod Volunteer 

Where the money goes - financial transparency

Your fee covers the overseas costs of volunteering and the costs of running our organisation in the UK, on a non-profit basis.  For more details and a breakdown of our costs please click here.

Book with confidence - financial protection

All monies paid to us are financially protected through The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT). 

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Fees in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP. For current exchange rates please see www.xe.com

Read volunteer reviews from the Turtle Conservation project

Melissa – 2018

“My experience at the turtle conservation programme in Costa Rica was unforgettable. The beach was amazing and the scenery was very beautiful. It was very exciting to be working closely with the turtles and it felt very rewarding to release the hatchlings into the sea.

The locals and volunteers were friendly and the staff working at the project were helpful and supportive. I would definitely recommend this programme to anyone who wants to volunteer. It has been the best decision I have made as it has been worthwhile and I learnt a lot about the Costa Rican culture!”

Anne – 2018 

“My volunteering placement with the turtle project in Costa Rica was all I had hoped for and more. From the beginning, Pod gave me excellent support in answering the questions I had about the placement and how to prepare for it. They contacted me at the strategic points in the planning process to check that all was well and ask if I had any further questions and were always responsive and helpful when I did. 

My overall experience was excellent and exceeded when I was fortunate enough to witness an arribadas (mass nesting) just up the coast within the first few days of being at the project. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!”

Brandy – 2018

“I had an absolutely delightful experience at the Turtle Conservation project. A gorgeous beach, nice accommodations, good food, and great group of people. I've worked as a research assistant at a loggerhead turtle nesting site, so I've had a similar experience. 

But the joy of seeing these tiny Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way to the ocean, overcoming the surf and fighting for survival is something I could experience many times over with equal emotional impact.”

Angus – 2017

“I had a great time, as well as the once in a lifetime opportunity to see an Arribada! Overall a great experience.

Seeing the baby turtles hatch and make their way into the sea made all the late nights and long patrols worthwhile! I had a fantastic time - would recommend!”

12,940

turtles released last season

"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder

Lucy

Pod UK Specialist

Lucy has visited the project, apply and you'll hear from her soon!

We look forward to receiving your application! There is no commitment by applying and we will send more information.

Apply

VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • Costa Rica Turtle Conservation volunteer - Brandy

    "I had an absolutely delightful experience. A gorgeous beach, nice accommodations, good food, and great group of people. The joy of seeing these tiny Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way to the ocean, overcoming the surf and fighting for survival is something I could experience many times over with equal emotional impact."

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Costa Rica Turtle Conservation volunteer - Erin

    "The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and it’s great getting to work alongside them and the research assistants as you can learn so much during your time there. Releasing hatchlings onto the beach at sunset was a truly incredible experience and one I will never forget."

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Costa Rica Turtle Conservation volunteer - Angus

    "Seeing the baby turtles hatch and make their way into the sea made all the late nights and long patrols worthwhile! I had a fantastic time - would recommend!”

    Read more volunteer reviews

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AWARDS AND ACCREDITATIONS

  • Tourism Concern
  • Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
  • Right Tourism
  • DOFE
  • theguardian
  • the independent
  • Sunday Times
  • Year Out Group
  • Best Volunteering Organisation
  • Wall Street Journal