Contribution starting at $2,495
Exported from Streamline App (https://app.streamlineicons.com)
9 days (avg. $277 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
Ocean Health

Costa Rican Sea Turtles

Location
Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica Map it
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Very Active
Accommodations
Single Rooms possible
Couples Rooms possible
Research Station
Internet access
Food
Dinner at local restaurants
Special diets accommodated
A female leatherback sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs | Earthwatch
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on a nesting female leatherback
A leatherback sea turtle hatchling sprints to the ocean | Earthwatch
Earthwatch volunteers excavate a hatched leatherback sea turtle nest
Earthwatch volunteers record the location of a leatherback sea turtle nest
A female sea turtle returns to the ocean after laying her eggs | Earthwatch
Playa Grande sea turtle nesting beach in Costa Rica  | Earthwatch
A female leatherback sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs | Earthwatch
Earthwatch volunteers collect data on a nesting female leatherback
A leatherback sea turtle hatchling sprints to the ocean | Earthwatch
Earthwatch volunteers excavate a hatched leatherback sea turtle nest
Earthwatch volunteers record the location of a leatherback sea turtle nest
A female sea turtle returns to the ocean after laying her eggs | Earthwatch
Playa Grande sea turtle nesting beach in Costa Rica  | Earthwatch

The leatherback sea turtle population in the Pacific, once the stronghold of the species, has decreased by over 90% since 1980. Help scientists investigate this decline and look for ways to save this species.


Earthwatch scientist measures a leatherback sea turtle hatchling

Many of the remaining Pacific leatherbacks nest in the sands of Playa Grande, Playa Ventanas, and Playa Langosta on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Female leatherbacks dig holes with their flippers and lay about 80 round eggs, a process they’ll repeat up to 12 times during the breeding season. In about two months, the fragile hatchlings will emerge.

The world is a dangerous place for these tiny turtles and their parents. They’re threatened by climate change, boat traffic, fishing gear, and humans harvesting their eggs. To truly understand why this ancient species has declined so rapidly and what we can do to stop this decline, researchers need to know everything about them: their behavior, physiology, genetics, population biology, and migration patterns.

To build this knowledge base, you’ll walk the beach at night when turtles are active, getting up close to these massive animals to attach transmitters that will track their local and long-distance movements. You’ll also help relocate eggs from nests in dangerous spots, like somewhere the waves might wash them away, to a hatchery. The researchers on this expedition have studied leatherbacks for over two decades, and you'll help them expand the longest-running database that exists on Pacific marine turtles. This work is critical: with leatherbacks declining at an alarming rate, each turtle is precious.

 

A Typical Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrival and orientation
  • Days 2-5: Daily activity includes, monitoring nesting turtles, relocating nests
  • Days 6-8: Releasing hatchlings, surveying the beach
  • Day 9: Departure

HOW YOU WILL HELP

When you arrive, the researchers will provide you with information on working with pollinator species. Depending on your team’s location, field work includes the following tasks:


You’ll do much of your work at night, when the turtles haul themselves up onto the beach to lay their eggs. A rotating group of team members will work for five or six hours each night and will have time to sleep during the day, when the other group of volunteers goes out. You and your teammates will help:

Observe and monitor nesting leatherbacks © Nathan Robinson
Observe and monitor nesting leatherbacks

Those working on the beach at night will visit each nesting leatherback to take measurements and record any unusual markings or injuries—in other words, you’ll get as close as a person can to these majestic animals.

Relocate sea turtle nests © Ed Talbot
Relocate sea turtle nests (Oct.-mid-Dec.), release hatchlings in ocean (mid-Dec.-Feb.)

Early in the breeding season, you'll check for nests that are in danger of getting washed away, then relocate the eggs in those nests to a hatchery where they can incubate safely. From mid-December to February when babies start to emerge from the eggs in the hatchery, these teams will take the tiny turtles down to the water's edge and release them into the wild.

Survey the beach © Amy Rougier
Survey the beach

During the day, teams will count sea turtle nests on the beach, take nest temperatures, and look for signs of erosion that could put nests in danger.

At some point during your stay, you’ll visit a local school. You’ll also have at least one half-day to visit the town of Tamarindo for shopping and exploring.

Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

FEEDBACK & QUESTIONS

4 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
Nerys Nicholls | April 7, 2019
I thought I might be lucky to see one or two turtles in my time with the team at the Playa Grande Research Station, but I never expected to see over a dozen (not including the hundreds I was lucky to see at the Ostional arribada!). Working with a nesting leatherback is a memory that will stay with me for a lifetime. Pictures do not do these animals justice, they truly feel like living dinosaurs. Adam and Abby, along with the rest of the biologists, were super welcoming and made us feel right at home and confident during our nighttime beach patrols. The accommodation is lovely within a beautiful setting, and nothing is more rewarding after a night patrol than brunch at Kiki's Place! I've been craving the bean pizza since I left.
Ann Coles | February 28, 2019
Supporting the project's biologists in their efforts to save leatherback turtles from extinction was one of the most challenging, yet learning-filled and rewarding experiences I have had. I knew nothing about sea turtles when I arrived at the research station and did not appreciate how hard it would be to patrol the beach where the leatherbacks nest from 11 pm to 5 am almost every night with only a new moon and stars as light. After the first night, I wanted to return home as quickly as possible. But I am so glad I stayed! Leatherbacks are incredible, other-worldly creatures returning to the beach where they first hatched every three years to lay hundreds of eggs, and then going back to the sea without ever knowing their hatchlings. Releasing babies that fit into the palm of a hand into the sea, wondering how they will survive with a nurturing parent and yet they do. The commitment of the biologists - mostly recent college graduates - to the turtles and the research protocol also impressed me deeply. The project also had great amenities - a location on a beautiful, three-mile beach populated mostly by surfers, a gorgeous sunset every evening, good meals at a nearby cafe, internet connection, and air-conditioning in the living area. I would highly recommend the project for someone in excellent physical condition with a passion for learning and a love of the seaside.
Audrey Don | February 10, 2019
My experience far exceeded my expectations. I worried about staying up at night and not having enough sleep but the late breakfasts, eye-shades, and afternoon naps took care of that. I loved, loved, loved walking the beach whether or not there were turtles. The opportunity to be in tune with nature and watch the slow but inexorable change the tide and movement of the moon and constellations in the sky over the passage of time was magical. And then, when a turtle was sighted, turtle adrenaline took over and time was irrelevant. I remember the beginning of one patrol. We had walked one stretch, taken a break and were on the way back when we sighted a Leatherback turtle coming out of the water. We watched her start to make a nest, patrolled again, came back, took data and counted eggs, patrolled again, and then saw her trudging back into the ocean. What a privilege to experience and to be part of the effort to save these endangered turtles. It was 3 hours later when I finally noticed time again. Though it would be hard to say what I found best about the expedition, I would have to say it was being with such a passionate group of young biologists and volunteers. Walking with a biologist each night and hearing their stories, their passion for their work, and their intrepid and caring spirits was inspiring!

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