Daily Life on A Turtle Volunteer Project
Nightly Patrols, Hatchery Work, And More
There are two ways to volunteer with a sea turtle conservation project - either a short-term (3-5 days) stay as part of an organized tour or a longer-term (7 days to 2 months) volunteer. By joining a tour, you can get the experience of working with local researchers but without the time commitment. For a higher level of interaction with the turtles and more responsibility, that requires a longer stay and additional training.
Each turtle project is different, but volunteering on a sea turtle conservation project usually involves patrolling the nesting beach with a group of researchers and other volunteers. When the group finds a turtle, volunteers will help collect data and tag it and either hide the nest by moving it to a safe location (like a hatchery) or marking its location.
Researchers collect data such as length and width of the shell, where the turtle nested, its tag number, and its physical condition. If the turtle isn't already tagged, researchers will apply either a metal tag to the flippers or inject a microchip into their shoulders. Some organizations do additional research by collecting tissue samples (for genetic analysis), photo identification, or other excavating nests to determine how many hatchlings survived.
Patrols generally last 4 hours and run from 8 pm to midnight or midnight to 4 am (in some places, volunteers are expected to patrol the full night). Many projects also have shifts in an egg hatchery, where the eggs are protected from poachers and animals until hatching. Other jobs can include maintaining the equipment, cleaning the beach of driftwood, debris, and trash, and participating in educational programs. At projects where most of the work is doing night patrols, volunteers generally have significant free time during the day to swim, explore the rainforest, visit local towns, or get to know the other volunteers and researchers.
While volunteering for a week or two can seem like a romantic getaway, it involves hard work and long hours. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you might be better suited for a group tour that is less intensive. Patrols happen every night, regardless of weather, and the projects need people who are committed to working their shifts regardless of conditions. Volunteers are a huge boost to conservation efforts, but also involve a lot of time and effort for the local organizations in training.
Photo credits: Neil Ever Osborne