Volunteering Costa Rica Turtle Conservation – Seraina
Seraina spent 6 weeks in Costa Rica and dedicated herself to turtle conservation as a volunteer helper. Read more about her experience.
Project: Volunteering in Costa Rica – Protecting endangered sea turtles
Location: Pacuare in Costa Rica
Duration: Start of Marts until mid of April 2022 – 6 weeks
Support from NATUCATE-Team:
Volunteering in Costa Rica - Feedback: 7 questions for Seraina
**1) Could you give us a brief overview of your activities in the project?
The project is about the protection of different sea turtles. Depending on when you are there, you will have different jobs. However, the main task at any given time will be night patrols. This involves walking along the beach at night (10 km and about 4 hours) looking for turtles. The purpose of night patrols is to find nests before poachers and relocate them in the breeding station (hatchery). In the process, data about the turtle and the nest are collected, such as the size of the animal and the nest, the number of eggs, injuries to the turtle, location of the nest, etc. The hatchery is a hatchery**.
Since I participated in the project at the beginning of the nesting season, we still had to build the hatchery. The hatchery is there to secure all the nests in one place and thus protect them from poachers. For this, we had to shovel a lot of sand, build a fence, set up nest sites, etc. This work was also the most physically demanding.
As soon as the hatchery is built, there is another main task, namely hatchery duty. The hatchery has to be guarded by us day and night so that neither poachers nor animals get into the hatchery.
As soon as the first young hatch, the little turtles are weighed, counted, released into the sea and the eggshells left behind are analysed. In addition to these three main tasks, there are also smaller activities such as beach clean-ups, painting buildings or cleaning equipment.
**2) What was/are the biggest challenge(s) for you during the project?
One of the challenges is definitely the simple life and everything that comes with it. It is a big change from Western standards to Central American conditions of a small research station in the middle of the rainforest and this adaptation should not be underestimated. The accommodation is very simple, and the sanitary facilities are correspondingly basic. For many, it was the biggest challenge to adapt to this different lifestyle. However, I (mostly) enjoyed it very much and found it a super experience.
Another challenge is the lack of sleep. Since you work mostly at night, the night becomes relatively short and especially with the combination of shovelling sand while building hatcheries, rest comes short. So, you should be able to get by with being tired or sleep-deprived.
**3) Was there anything you particularly liked? Or something that you remember in a particularly negative way?
What Seraina particularly liked
I actually loved almost everything about the project. The remote location of the research station in the middle of the rainforest is unique and the nature in the surroundings is impressive. I found it a very great experience to be able to live so remotely and so simply. It was great to be cut off from the rest of the world and live in your own little bubble without luxury, social media or everyday stress. You forget about any problems from home and can just live in the moment. The perfect opportunity to really come down and unwind.
Another highlight was of course the work with the turtles. The size, the look and the way they move were just impressive and I think you find few animals that remind you of a dinosaur like the leatherback turtle. Seeing the first leatherback turtle and securing the first nest was a great experience!
Because of the work itself and the remoteness of the project, you get to know the other people very quickly and well. You have a lot of time to exchange with many others, talk about God and the world and just have a great time together, definitely a highlight of the time there!
What Seraina remembers negatively and tips for you
What I didn't like so much was the mosquitoes. Due to the combination of a humid, warm climate and the river channels all around, there were really a lot of mosquitoes and sand flies. From dawn onwards, the mosquitoes come out and on the beach, you are not safe from sand flies, neither in the morning nor in the evening. Without long trousers or long-sleeved tops on night patrols and mosquito nets for the bed you are lost.
4) Did you have any expectations before you travelled to the project? If so, were your expectations met, disappointed or perhaps exceeded?
Sure, I think everyone imagines what the time will be like. My expectations were exceeded. The staff was really very hearty and I also had a super time with most of the volunteers. The nature is impressive and due to the remoteness, the time in the project was a pure adventure!
Seraina's experience with poachers
I think as far as the poachers are concerned, I had different expectations. The poachers do the same thing as us: they patrol the same beach at night looking for turtles. So that means that you are confronted daily with the poachers. You often meet them on the patrols and have to watch them possibly find a turtle before you do and get the nest. It's very frustrating!
I didn't expect to encounter the poachers so often and it was honestly a bit scary at first. But you also have to say that the poachers are not dangerous. Mostly they are very poor people who try to finance their lives and that of their families by selling the turtle eggs.
However, one should be aware that one has to deal with poachers and especially with the frustration of poached nests or killed turtles. It is really sad to see nests or even turtles being stolen right in front of your eyes.
**5) Did you do anything in your free time that you can recommend to future participants?
The station is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so you can't leave the station and its environment in your free time. In our free time we played a lot of games, talked, read and enjoyed the beach and the sun. There is a "hiking path" in the rainforest next to the beach, which we often walked along to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. With a little luck and patience, you can also observe many animals.
For my birthday, the team built an improvised beach volleyball court and this then became a bit of a tradition for us. We played beach volleyball almost every day, which was very cool! Once we also organised a football match with some locals.
**6) What tips/recommendations would you give to other participants who want to do the project?
Well, don't take too many clothes, especially not with rather thick fabrics, like jeans. It's easier to wash a small amount of clothes by hand and since nothing really dries in the rainforest, it's better to take light clothes. What doesn't hurt, however, is one or two airy long-sleeved tops, for the evenings. It can get windy and chilly sometimes.
The mosquitoes are really bad, my legs were full of bites after a few days. Many had light antihistamines with them, so as not to let the itching drive them mad or scratch themselves open at night, and I wish I'd had some with me too.
While I was in the project, the solar panels were broken. So, we had no electricity and no way to charge our mobile phones or other devices. So, it's best to take a good solar powerbank with you that you can charge there in the sun. A waterproof bag or cover doesn't hurt either and card games are welcomed by all :)
The noise in the rainforest is impressive, mostly in a positive sense, except at night. After a long night patrol, all you really want to do is go to bed and sleep in peace. And then there are some great cicadas that just won't stop chirping. They can really get on your nerves. What can also disturb your sleep are, for example, other flatmates who come back into the room at different times because they were on night patrol at another time. So it's best to take earplugs with you to enjoy a few hours of good sleep.
**7) Can you estimate how many extra costs you had on site?
Very little, there are almost no opportunities to spend money. One of the locals sells a few snacks in her house, which are very popular with everyone, as everyone liked to have a snack before or during the night patrol. Also, at the station they sell t-shirts and jewellery for 20 dollars. Otherwise, I only needed money to get out of the project again for a taxi and the bus. In total I spent about 50 dollars** in the project itself.
Seraina's additions to the Costa Rica turtle conservation volunteer work.
The project is awesome, I had a wonderful time. The location of the project is unique and the nature impressive. To be able to live away from civilisation and to see how little you really need was a great experience. To be able to work with endangered turtles and to see the effect that the work of the research station has on endangered species was great. It was great to know that if you do a good job, you can really make a difference. I was able to build friendships in a few weeks and I am still and hopefully will be in contact with people I met there for a long time. Overall, I had an absolutely fantastic time and would recommend it to anyone who is a little adventurous and open-minded!
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