From Ninja Turtles to Crush from Finding Nemo, sea turtles are no doubt portrayed as being one of the coolest sea animals in the media, making it easy to find sea turtle fans in children and adults, alike. And when you begin to understand how crucial their contributions are to maintain the ocean’s ecosystem, you start to realize just how important these little dudes really are.
See, sea turtles maintain the sea-grass beds, coral reef production, and the overall health of the Earth’s beaches. Those lovely tropical vacations we all look forward to would look pretty bleak without our sea friends, and that’s exactly the state we’re headed for. Due to all the pollution, climate change, fishing and poaching, we’ve caused a majority of the species to become endangered, so it’s our job to right our wrongs.
Here are some tips to follow before you join us in our Sea Turtle Conservation efforts!
Choose a Location
So, where are these sea turtles, you ask? You should know that sea turtles have a taste for the finer things in life, so they only call the most pristine beaches home.
Five of the seven species (the Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Green) are found mainly in Central America making Costa Rica and Guatemala some of the best places for a sea turtle conservation project. The programs are typically located in more remote parts of the country as sea turtles enjoy more tranquil environments, but you can be sure to volunteer in some of the most beautiful and serene areas, with lots of sunshine and plenty of surfing opportunities.
Have a Tough Shell
Turtles are fond of fellow turtles, so if you’re more of a delicate bird kind of person, this might not be the project for you. Turtle conservation may sound cute, but it’s actually hard work. Not all volunteers will get the chance to see a bunch of baby turtles making their way back to the ocean as you cheer them on with prideful tears in your eyes, so let’s get a bit more realistic–volunteers could find themselves participating in any aspect of the project; daily tasks may include tending to the eggs, tracking and data entry, and assisting in constructing a local hatchery. Some volunteers get involved with night patrols to prevent poachers from stealing turtle eggs, and others do community outreach to educate locals about the importance of turtle conservation and ecosystem maintenance.
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No Experience Needed
Unlike other volunteer programs such as medical & healthcare, which do require experience, volunteering with sea turtles does not. Conservation advocates of all ages and professional/academic backgrounds are encouraged to join. Requirements include a positive attitude, a willingness to learn, an open mind, and a passion for nature and wildlife.
Volunteers should make note of the communities they are working in, and be respectful to the traditions and customs of the people native to the land. Speaking with others who have experience volunteering in turtle conservation is a good idea to gain insight on how to best communicate with locals regarding conservancy issues. Taking a respectful, open-minded approach to engaging with the community ensures a more trusting relationship between international volunteers and the local neighbors.
Who You’ll Work With
Although no experience is necessary, you will have the advantage of working with researchers, environmentalists, and biologists. These project leaders take their work seriously as it stems from a passion for environmental conservation, rather than a passion to be compensated monetarily–these programs are often funded by private donors. Therefore, program supervisors are invested in you as a volunteer and allow you to work independently under their supervision so long as volunteers are responsible, able to take direction, and willing to learn.
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The Pros & The Cons
This program is perfect for students studying marine conservation as it will add valuable experience to observe these sea creatures in their natural habitat. It will also allow for a deeper understanding of how their role greatly affects the ocean’s ecosystems.
Sea turtle conservation is also a perfect opportunity for passionate environmental conservationists to affect change with action. It will give you more insight into how marine conservation is handled around the world, and may encourage you to volunteer in similar projects in the future.
Unfortunately, not all programs are created equal. As sea turtle conservation grows in popularity, so do shady businesses driven by profit. It is important to do your due diligence when it comes to researching the volunteer abroad programs you are considering. Make sure to ask questions about how your impact will affect the environment, and what the organization itself does to help develop the local communities.