A:There are few species more in need of a helping hand than the sea turtle: All seven species are on threatened or endangered lists. And thanks to the turtles’ penchant for secluded, sandy beaches, altruists planning volunteer trips have exotic vacations in store—bonus!
Most volunteer work involves working at a nesting site, where amateur researchers patrol, mark nests (and possibly move eggs to a safe location), and tag and collect data from adults.
Volunteers are often responsible for transportation to and from the service project and should be prepared to pay for the experience; the fee goes toward food, lodging, and training. Most places require a minimum stay ranging from a few nights to two weeks.
Here are three destinations to consider:
In the Mayan language, “akumal” means “place of turtles.” Fitting then, that the small town, located near better-known Playa del Carmen and Cosumel, is home to Centro Ecológico Akumal, a conservation organization protecting the local loggerhead, green, and hawksbill residents. CEA volunteers tag the hard-shelled swimmers when they come ashore and monitor the reef when they don’t.
Matura Beach, Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad & Tobago at large is home to five of seven sea turtle species. The islands are a vital nesting location for the critically endangered leatherback turtle. Save Our Sea Turtles, a community-based organization, welcomes volunteers for month-long stays. Nature Seekers, which works on Matura Beach, offers ecotourism outings to watch and tag the turtles. Visitors can experience the local culture at family-run Suzan’s Guest House, a partner of the Nature Seekers group.
Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Founded in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest conservation organization of its kind. The organization began its work in Costa Rica. Do-gooders can venture to the group’s founding place at Tortuguero, the most populous nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere. Beyond vacationing in an tropical location, you’ll participate in field research and conduct nightly patrols along five- to six-mile stretches of the black-sand beaches. The Sea Turtle Conservancy also offers chances to lend a hand in Florida, Panama, and Bermuda.
Other resources to check out: SEE Turtles, a conservation tourism project of The Ocean Foundation, connects volunteers with projects in Latin American countries. SeaTurtle.Org is a hub for international information about sea turtle organizations, including those offering volunteer opportunities.