We all know that sea turtles have not been in a good place for the longest time. In order to save turtles, there are a lot of volunteer programs all over the world. This isn’t only good news for the turtles, it’s also for those who would love travels that leave positive impacts for these reptiles.
So, here are some projects that you can join while you travel so that you can get to enjoy the beaches, the people, the food, while also learning more about turtles and help conserve them.
A lot of people vouch for this program, so it’s a good sign. Based in Costa Rica, Broader View mainly works with green sea turtles. You as a visitor can patrol beaches, manage eggs, and help release sea turtle hatchlings into the ocean.
So, it’s going to be a great chance for anybody interested in biology or conservation. Even if you’re not particularly interested in biology or zoology, but you want to enjoy Costa Rica while saving the turtles, check out Broader View.
International Volunteer Services (IVS)
There are a number of turtles in Ecuador, and IVS is a great program for those wanting to get hands-on experience working with the turtles. The project works together with the locals in the small fishing village of Puerto Lopez.
As a volunteer, you won’t only work with nesting turtles but also marine telemetry projects that you’ll do at sea. When you have more time, you have easy access to beautiful diving, beaches, and national parks in the same areas.
Sea Turtle Conservancy
Volunteers who have tried Sea Turtle Conservancy in Costa Rica stated that the program has more sense of fun and adventure for them. Other than that, the project focuses on sustainable travel for its volunteers as they support the research mission.
And, you can really experience Costa Rica with this project because you’ll be in a rural environment. As a result, you’ll see more of the country’s amazing wildlife. Expect to work alongside monkeys, reptiles, and gorgeous birds.
This project runs in multiple countries such as Costa Rica, Bali, and Zanzibar. Similar to IVS, you as a volunteer can have a chance to do hands-on work with the sea turtles as well as the local community. Visitors who joined the program said that they appreciated the support from IVHQ and felt like they got their money’s worth.
Most IVHQ projects include 24/7 support, full accommodation, meals, and airport pickup. Maybe you think that this program feels like glamping. There’s a good side to it, however: not having to worry about these basics will allow you to focus solely on the turtles.
Volunteering is hard work that can sometimes take weeks to do. So, if you wish to volunteer but you don’t have a lot of time, you can still help the turtles short-term with SEE Turtles in Baja California Sur, Mexico.
For eight days, you will help with sea turtle research while also exploring the local scenery and enjoying sightings of other wildlife. So other than the turtles themself, you’ll also see harks, whales, and dolphins.
Earnings from this project goes back toward conservation with the potential for up to 500 turtle hatchlings per participant to be saved at nesting sites.
La Tortuga Feliz
Volunteers working on La Tortuga Feliz work with turtles and with community members. Together, they help build a sustainable turtle-friendly community. Along with nesting and hatchling programs, La Tortuga Feliz also runs a turtle rescue center. So, volunteers can get to work with injured adult turtles and nurse them back to health.
Before you jump into the turtle volunteer wagon
I understand the fervor of volunteering and helping the turtles, but there are some things you need to know before you join the projects.
The programs are usually run in remote places and they’re difficult to get to. So, you’ll be living off grid, away from “civilization.” So, choose the programs wisely and plan ahead for how long you want to be there.
Volunteering for sea turtle projects is not always easy. One needs to walk a few miles every night in soft sand on dark beaches, digging nests in the sand, getting rained on or bitten by bugs, and generally being physically active.
I don’t mean to make them sound intimidating, but before volunteering, you need to know what the expectations are. And if you think this doesn’t stop you, then go on ahead!
Why tours and volunteer programs are vital
Areas that are important for turtles usually have turtle watching tours or volunteer programs. The latter is understandably more impactful, but what about the former?
Here, we’re looking at examples like Trinidad and Tobago. They’re island nations at the end of the Caribbean archipelago. Those places are crucial for leatherback turtles in the Western Hemisphere, and the second-largest, after Gabon.
Each season, the islands’ conservation teams depend on visitors so that they can give the reptiles more fighting chances against the many obstacles to their survival. For many turtles, habitat destruction, climate change-related reproductive issues, all types of pollution, and bycatch offshore.
Now, the turtle-watching tours where people have an access to experience turtles up close provide the money to fund monitoring and patrols. On the other hand, volunteers from all over the world would do hands-on activities.
The funding then goes to data collection during nesting, which then goes into organizational and national databases.
Volunteers are actually the backbone of the monitoring work. While they and other organizations welcome operational support for things such as data entry and marketing. However, the work in the field isn’t all that easy.
“You’re going out there at night, you’re walking long distances, you’re exposed to the elements, to mosquitoes and sand flies and rain. It’s really difficult, physically taxing work,” said Giancarlo Lalsingh from Save Our Sea Turtles Tobago.
Therefore, for volunteers, the assignments differ based on experience, levels of commitment, and physical fitness.
After training, field volunteers will almost invariably begin making sure nesting mothers can access the beach and nest successfully. They also need to gather data about the ones that do, and look out for injured or sick turtles.
Sometimes, turtles came ashore injured in some ways, for instance, with ropes or fishing gear wrapped around them, flippers damaged or missing, or with other war wounds from their lives at sea. There was one case when a turtle got impaled by a spear from a billfish.
In times like these, volunteers must work quickly to render some emergency first aid, whether it’s disentangling, cleaning wounds, or helping dig nests. So, being volunteers is hard work, but it really helps the turtles in the long run.
“It’s literally our passion—nobody gets into this to make money. It’s really tough. But the outcome of all that work is so worth it,” Lalsingh said.
Again, if volunteering is not what you’re looking for, then the easiest way to help turtle conservation is by paying turtle-watching tours or a direct donation. With your funding, you’ll help turtle monitoring and patrols, making it easier for the volunteers, the cause, and of course, the turtles.