​A Day In The Life Of A Costa Rica Turtle Conservation Volunteer!

​A Day In The Life Of A Costa Rica Turtle Conservation Volunteer!

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on Sep 12, 2016

Located deep in the heart of Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest, Reserva Playa Tortuga is a fantastic biological research and education centre, founded in 2009 by community members and scientists alike. The organisation aims to contribute extensively to the fields of biological research, as well as to inspire a culture of environmental conservation in neighbouring areas that’ve been influenced by the Terraba-Sierpe wetlands. But what exactly does a day in the life of a conservation volunteer entail? We spoke to members of the RPT community to get a real feel of what it’s like to be a part of this wonderful project – particularly during the famous and exciting turtle season!

Before we dive in, let’s discover a little about the project’s story so far: every time turtle season comes around, volunteers and project facilitators alike begin to build and prep both the hatchery and camp, in keen anticipation of the arrival of the fabled Olive Ridley turtle. As members of the team are all scheduled for various patrol shifts, you might find that you’re pencilled in for a night shift, late afternoon, or a morning patrol. In this particular instance, put yourself in the position of somebody taking it easy after late afternoon patrol, and imagine yourself sleeping soundly in your room at the reserve…

7am rolls around – it’s the start of a new day, and you’re rearing to get going. That is, of course, after you hit snooze a couple of times…

7:09am – your alarm is blaring, and you realise it really is time to get out of bed and crack on with your day! Jumping out of bed, you waltz down to the bathroom to take a quick shower and brush your teeth, pondering about what the day ahead might entail. You get dressed, grab your tablet and head into the main room of the reserve, greeting your fellow volunteers as they too flow into the room.

8:30 already – you’ve barely had time to check on life back home (via Facebook, of course) before the room fills with other volunteers just like you, pouring fantastic Costa Rican coffee into each of their cups and chattering excitedly about what today might involve. You smile, sipping your cup and envisioning the warmth of the sun bathing your skin – you can’t wait to get out there and see what Reserva Playa Tortuga has to offer you (and vice versa!)

9am, and it’s time to head to the beach – after wolfing down the last of your breakfast, you head out and discover the low tide of the shore. Your RPT facilitator guides you and a select few other volunteers to an area of the beach for erosion study – the measurements you take will ultimately help the reserve to understand the changing beach structures and their effects on nesting turtles, and already, you’re satisfied to be taking part in a fundamental part of conservation study. You listen to the instructions passed on to you by the RPT staff member and work alongside your team.

Beach Erosion

11am already – time to head back to the reserve for your next task! Here, you’ll be helping out in the Butterfly Garden; an opportunity you’re keen to take part in, as this means you’ll spend your time working with young school children. There’s something about sharing valuable and exciting conservation information with young minds, and you can’t wait to meet them all!

12pm, and your tummy starts to rumble – everybody gathers in the main room of the reserve to share a hearty ‘tipico’, otherwise known as a Costa Rican lunch! Today’s meal is a very filling serving of rice, beans, veggies and fish. You all dig in and begin to share stories about yourselves: where you’re from, why you wanted to take part in the project and so forth. You discover common threads with each of your teammates (it takes a certain kind of spirit to volunteer, after all!) and from here, you begin to make plans for your upcoming day off…perhaps you’ll each go for a hike, or even relax down by the waterfalls? Either way, you’re glad to have met some kindred spirits here. It’s great to be part of such a friendly team!

1pm, and you notice your eyes feel a little heavy – must have been that filling lunch! You remember that you’ve signed up to do a night patrol, so you decide to have a quick nap – gotta keep those energy levels up, after all! You set your alarm for 3pm, and settle in for a quick snooze.

3:30pm – time to head back to the beach and take part in a birding walk. Out here, you spot a huge array of various bird species – you had no idea that Costa Rica had such an interesting aviary population, and these little guys really are beautiful!

5pm – inspired by your hour-and-a-half walk on the beach, you head back to the reserve for one last bite to eat before changing into your night clothes. After such a successful day spotting wildlife, you wonder if tonight will be the night that the nesting turtles arrive to the shore. Grabbing your gear for the patrol, you meet up with your follow night-shift workers and head out to the beach.

6pm – there’s something beautiful about the evening sun, isn’t there? Pleased that you signed up to tonight’s patrol, you wander the beach with several other volunteers and a member of the RPT staff. Sharing stories about yourselves and also checking out the fine handiwork done by the previous volunteer group (the hatchery looks fantastic!), you stroll along the sand with your eyes peeled, hoping to spot the stars of the event – the nesting sea turtles.

8pm – could it be? Your group facilitator gestures towards the shoreline, as you and your group watch on in hushed amazement…the turtles have arrived! This is a truly moving time, as you know that the Olive Ridley sea turtle is a vulnerable species, and to see the females return in their hoards as to create new life is a breathtaking experience. All of a sudden, your time at the RPT seems not only ‘worth it’, but absolutely essential to the future of this brilliant species. The education of the school children, the data collection, the beach clean-ups…all of the hard work your team, and each team before you, has done has amounted to this moment, and you stand proud as the turtles continue to make their way up to the hatchery. But your hard work is not over yet – you must keep your wits about you in case of poachers, or any other element of threat that might cease the turtle’s migration to the beach.

Night Patrol

9pm already – and man, are you glad that you signed up to night patrol! Heading back to the reserve, you share your experience with the other volunteers, and each of you agree with gusto that your time at the Reserva Playa Tortuga has been more than worthwhile. And when the time comes to call it a night, you know you’ll be going to sleep satisfied with the difference you’ve made to not only the species itself, but to the future of the whole organisation. You can’t wait to share your stories with your friends back home, and are already thinking about heading out on yet another project!

Every bit of involvement on conservation projects is integral to the sanctity of nature, so if you could picture yourself involved with the above project, why not experience it for real? Reserva Playa Tortuga opens its doors to volunteers the whole year round, so be sure to check out our project page and help to make a difference today!

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