Volunteer Work Abroad Since 1997

Volunteer to Protect Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback Sea Turtles in Tortuguero National Park

Project Overview

Join the GVI wildlife conservation team in the heart of Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and help protect endangered sea turtles.Our team directly monitors endangered green turtles, and critically endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtle species during their nesting season. We can make serious contributions to ensure their continuous survival by recording vital data to track these animals.

During your stay, you will not only contribute to the preservation of marine turtles, but you will join a team contributing to the development and management of long-term wildlife conservation efforts along Central America’s Caribbean coast.

Even though turtle conservation will be a main part of your activities, during your time on this expedition you will truly gain a holistic understanding of the Costa Rican rainforest and its ecosystem by conducting important research on jaguars and aquatic birds, as well as conducting biological assessment surveys of the area. In addition you will receive additional training across a wide variety of subjects and gain a plethora of skills that will help you further your ability to operate professionally in the field.

Run in conjunction with the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), this project offers unique opportunities to explore the natural habitat of these amazing turtles, as well as offering continuous hands-on training.

Highlights Include...

Getting the chance to go on this unique adventure in a Costa Rican National Park; enjoying life at the research station; learning about the wildlife and their habitat; seeing unique wildlife in marine and coastal rainforest environments including remote Caribbean beaches and tropical rainforest, seeing endangered species; watching turtles nest on a remote beach as they have been doing for millions of years;  exploring this wonderful Central American country.


We are always looking for enthusiastic and dedicated people to join our team. This project offers qualifying and high-performing volunteers the chance to stay on the project for a longer duration on a GVI Scholarship free of charge and as part of the staff team in the field. If you would like to work towards a field career and make the very most of your time abroad, you might want to work towards a place on a GVI Scholarship. Successful scholars may find themselves offered full time employment with GVI, and many of our current staff have come through this route.

Please note, the awarding of scholarships is at the sole discretion of GVI and may be offered immediately after the completion of your program or at a later date. Contact us for more information.

GVI is real volunteering

Our projects are constantly evolving according to the needs on the ground at any given time. All the information displayed here will give you an overall feel for the project, but you should be prepared for any changes in the field when you travel. An evolving project means that we can constantly meet the needs and requirements of our partners, who dictate the work that we do. The way it should be.

Project Life

The majority of your time will be spent working directly in the field, collecting data for ongoing projects and learning vital research techniques. The work you do is extremely important, and days can be long and work can continue throughout the day and night.

Apart from nest checks and possible nest excavations during the day, you will be conducting some night-time patrols along the tropical beach, looking for nesting turtles and counting tracks. In the event of finding a turtle during your patrol, you may assist the GVI Patrol Leader by helping to measure the turtle, count the eggs being laid, look for previous tags and distinctive markings and record the data. You may also be lucky enough to see and record the juvenile turtles emerging from the nest and record data on hatchling success, poaching rates and mortality rates.

When not in the field, the rest of your time will be spent at our base, processing data and getting to know your fellow volunteers.

In order to study and track these turtles in their natural habitat you will be living in a basic and remote setting. The base is a one hour boat journey from the nearest small shops, phones and internet facilities.

Our base is small but comfortable, with enough space for people to relax together or in private. 

Project Details

In order to track and collect data on endangered and critically endangered green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles, tasks will involve - recording spatial and seasonal distribution; monitoring nest numbers; determine levels of illegal poaching on turtles and their nests; record success rates of turtle hatchlings; track returning turtles to the nesting beach and migrations between beaches; determine whether jaguars are having an impact on the marine turtle populations.

You should also expect to be involved in other on-going research projects taking place on our base depending on requirements at any given time. These projects could include - jaguar, mammal and prey species abundance studies, designed to track and monitor jaguar numbers and their prey; or the monitoring of 30 key aquatic bird species to collect long-term seasonal trend data on resident and migratory birds.

Our goal is to develop and sustain the long term conservation of the Tortuguero area and aid in the preservation of their native sea turtle populations by providing data to the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment.

How this project makes a difference:

GVI’s data goes out to national and international organisations, is presented at international conferences, and is used in species and area management policy development.

Sea turtle conservation efforts have been successful in decreasing poaching rates and improving protection of beaches and other natural habitats for sea turtles.


  I did not expect the flood of excitement and emotion to rush over me when I saw a leatherback sea turtle nesting. It was a life changing moment that I had the privilege of sharing with the...
Robyn Darley- USA 2012


I did not expect the flood of excitement and emotion to rush over me when I saw a leatherback sea turtle nesting. It was a life changing moment that I had the privilege of sharing with the friends I made here. I am very lucky to be here still working with such an amazing creature. 

  Even though it took 5 night walks before I saw my first turtle, being able to count the eggs of a giant leatherback made the wait worth it!! I was amazed by the dexterity and gentleness with...
Dave Halewood "Pepper" -UK 2012


Even though it took 5 night walks before I saw my first turtle, being able to count the eggs of a giant leatherback made the wait worth it!! I was amazed by the dexterity and gentleness with which she used her back flippers to cover her eggs, before she made the long haul back to the sea. Pepper Expedition Staff Member

Free Time

Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate on programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program.

Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI. Our Jalova field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Costa Rica!

Optional Side Trips

Given your isolated location, a lot of your down time will be spent on base, the rainforest is not a place to go wondering! However there are still some possibilities in the immediate area for you to make the most of your time in Costa Rica. You can visit Tortuguero Village, browse its small souvenir shops, visit the delicious bakery and just watch the world go lazily by. For longer term volunteers on long weekend breaks, you could decide to head off base and further explore the Caribbean region. Hiking, snorkelling, fishing, or canopy and zip-line tours are just some of the activities that are possible in the area. For something a bit more intense, you could raft on the white waters of the famous Pacuare River on class III to IV rapids over the course of 1- or 2-day trips. And if the adventure activities are not for you, then simply relax in a laidback Caribbean village!

Further Travelling Opportunities

Costa Rica is an amazing country with an abundance of travel opportunities further afield with the following just a snapshot of the many possibilities!

Admire the famous and active Volcan Arenal from a distance and relax in the natural hot springs; surf the Salsa Brava – a hotspot of the Caribbean for the advanced surfer; ride horseback on the beach in Puerto Viejo or simply enjoy miles and miles of beautiful beaches kissed by palm trees; spot migratory raptor birds in the Talamanca Mountains and visit indigenous villages to learn more about their amazing culture; discover the cloud forest at Monteverde, visit the hummingbird gallery, enjoy the locally made ice cream and other fresh dairy products or walk among the treetops on the hanging bridges; enjoy the organised wildlife tours of Braulio Carrillo National Park; travel across the country to discover the beautiful Pacific Coast with its hidden white sand beaches; visit Volcan Irazu and discover coffee farms on the way back to San Jose; back in the capital, visit the Gold Museum or the Jade Museum, attend a play in one of the numerous theatres or take in the Latin American vibe with its lively nightlife.


Latest from the Base...

2 jaguars playing, caught by GVI camera trap
We’ve said goodbye to another fabulous group of volunteers, and this month before they left,  ...
A photo from one of the camera traps, taken whilst GVI team were on the beach
 ‘Paradise doesn’t exist’ they said,‘Magic is a misconception’ they said,‘Dreams lack reality...

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Program Details

Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica

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Program Cost

  • £1050.00
  • €1260.00


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What's Included

  • Pre-departure support and discounted services
  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • Arrival orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • All meals (unless otherwise stated in field manuals)
  • Welcome meeting
  • Location orientation
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • 24-hour in-country support

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Visa costs
  • Personal kit
  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • International and domestic airport taxes