Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s dream come true, not to mention one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet.
The Central American ecotourism hotspot offers more than its fair share of natural wonders for adventurous travelers to explore. From the remote rivers of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (near the Nicaragua border) to the mystical cloudforests of Monteverde, from the wildlife-rich jungles of the Osa Peninsula to the tranquil Caribbean coast of Tortuguero National Park, each of these ecosystems offers its own unique pleasures.
There are clearly countless reasons why we love Costa Rica. But one of our favorites is the opportunity to do volunteer work with Costa Rica Sea Turtles. This excursion allows us to get up-close and personal with one of our favorite marine species, working side by side with the experienced conservationists who have made it their life’s mission to protect them.
Here are five reasons why we think everyone– especially wildlife lovers– should have a chance to volunteer in Costa Rica Sea Turtle conservation:
1) Sea Turtles are Endangered
There are seven species of sea turtles– Flatback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley. The total sea turtle population in Costa Rica has declined by around 90% since 1980.
Of the four species found in the country, Hawksbills are listed as critically endangered, Greens are endangered, while Leatherbacks and Olive Ridley are considered vulnerable. These beautiful creatures still face many obstacles to their survival. Current threats to Costa Rica Sea Turtles include poaching for human consumption, being struck by boat traffic, getting eaten by domestic animals, being caught accidentally by industrial fisheries, and ingesting trash in oceans and beaches.
The good news is that there are plenty of sea turtle conservation organizations working to help tip the scale in their favor, including the NGO we partner with in Costa Rica. Sea turtles have been around for 110 million years (ever since the age of dinosaurs!), so participating in sea turtle conservation will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your whole family.
2) Your kids will LOVE it!
There are few things we’ve ever experienced that are more rewarding than watching baby sea turtles emerge from their nests, carefully collecting them into buckets of sand, and helping them make the arduous trek to the beach, where they can be released to the relative safety of their vast ocean home.
Perhaps the only thing better is the proud feeling you can get witnessing your child experiencing this process for the first time. Our Costa Rica Sea Turtle Initiative itinerary is centered on this very activity, and we can assure you that every single child who participates lights up during this activity!
Daily duties on our volunteer vacation include digging up hatched nests, helping scientists measure hatching success rates, cleaning up the beach, making signs to encourage awareness about sea turtle conservation and assisting with maintenance projects in the sea turtle hatchery.
In the process, children will learn to respect the fragility of life, take responsibility for their actions, and see first-hand how cool the cycle of nature can be.
3) Costa Rica is amazing
Sea turtles can travel as far as 1,400 miles to reach their feeding grounds and the beaches where mothers emerge from the ocean to nest. Those stunning beaches will be the primary setting for your adventure in Costa Rica, a country that prides itself on its ecotourism offerings.
From January to July, our trip ventures to a rustic fishing village on the Caribbean coast, where leatherback sea turtles often lay their eggs. Here you can listen to the sounds of howler monkeys and be on the lookout for toucans in the trees that line the coast. The world-famous Sloth Sanctuary is also in this area.
From July to December, we visit the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula. This is one of the most breathtaking parts of Costa Rica, home to sea turtles, ocelots, monkeys and many other animals.
Though Costa Rica only covers 0.03% of the earth’s surface, 6% of the world’s biodiversity thrives here. Besides sea turtles, there are myriad species of monkeys, birds, butterflies, dolphins, whales, reptiles and mammals such as jaguars and tapirs. Did we mention it’s also home to two active volcanos and 1,200 varieties of orchids?
4) Baby Sea Turtles!
Do we really need to say anything else? Baby sea turtles are utterly adorable.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature can be just as brutal as she is beautiful. Only one in 1,000 baby sea turtles typically survives the journey from the nest to the ocean in the wild. Having sea turtle conservation groups working to ensure their survival is vital to the future of these increasingly endangered species.
Your work as a Discover Corps volunteer may include weighing and measuring each baby turtle. You’ll notice how surprisingly strong, resilient and inquisitive they are.
When the time comes to cheer them on as they navigate rocks, twigs and potential predators on their way down the beach, seeing them reach the water is often an emotional experience for everyone involved.
5) Sea turtles are worth saving
Sea turtles represent two essential ecosystems: marine and beach. If sea turtles went extinct, vital nutrients from their unhatched nests and leftover egg shells would disappear, contributing to the erosion of beaches and sand dunes. It would also affect any dune vegetation that relies on those nutrients to grow.
As for the ocean, sea turtles help to control the jellyfish population, including stinging jellyfish that can wreak havoc on fisheries and limit the underwater activities most travelers love.
There are obviously more than five reasons why you should volunteer with Costa Rica sea turtles, but these are a few of the most significant ones. Sea turtle conservation is an important cause that your whole family will love getting involved in. Just let us know if you have any questions about this once-in-a-lifetime volunteer vacation experience! –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.