Volunteer blog: Toby Connock

One of the main reasons I came to Costa Rica was the chance to see and work with turtles. Just being able to see them was enough of an incentive to sign up. I arrived in Costa Rica late on the night of the 27th and arrived at the camp on the 28th of August. Following getting the collectivo (the local bus) to the camp we got introduced to everyone and got given a tour of camp. Cold water showers, sleeping in hammocks, vegetarian meals… a bit of a change from Kent!

Throughout the first week of over 3 here (I had come with Vicky my friend from university) we got to grips with all the different surveys on offer, and the massive changes to my sleeping habits. Starting at 5 or 6am and going to bed around 8pm is a slight shock to my body! The surveys are split into 4: primates, otters, birds, and of course, turtles. Its incredible how much the environment differs to anywhere else I’ve ever been before; the humidity is what hits you first. I don’t think in this 3 weeks I will ever feel clean and dry, and the sheer amount of green! Being next to one of the most pristine rivers… water you can even drink… mad!

Our first turtle experience came on Saturday at the local beach at Piro. Up at 3.15am to leave by 4am to get to the beach. Whilst clear overhead there was a massive thunderstorm out to see sending jabs of lightning down so bright it would light up the entire beach. Quite a setting to be looking for nests. Turtles have a terrible survival rate, between poaching (many people eat the turtle eggs), predation of eggs, and tiny hatchlings and their slow growth to sexual maturity makesfor a very small percentage that actually stay alive long enough to nest. For this reason our tasks are to:

  1. Find nests and dig out the eggs to take them to the hatchery. We dig out new nests to keep them safe and control their temperature. (Their sex is temperature dependent) 
  2. Counting the number of shells at predated nests
  3. Tagging nesting turtles

This first walk we found 4 nests and so went through the long process of finding the egg chamber (digging with a stick until you feel a give in the sand), carefully removing the eggs, sometimes up to 100, relocating them to the hathchery and digging a new hole and measuring the egg number, temperature, and chamber size. We also had to move a new nest up the beach as a turtle had laid near the high tide mark which is very dangerous to the eggs (the salt water damages them).

The following Monday Vicky and I signed up for a night beach patrol at the Peje Perro beach further down the coast. This promised to be a long night… leaving at 8.30pm and coming back at anytime between 1 and 5am! Its an hours walk to the beach itself and then 9km of beach to survey. There was a group of 6 volunteers with Kirsty, our leader, trekking along the beach with a beautiful clear sky above. That’s the other thing out here… you get the rain but the night sky can be incredible! Being so close to the equator the stars seem close enough to touch. On this walk alone I saw 7 shooting stars! As we walked we found a few predated nests but it wasn’t until around sector 15 or 45 that we saw fresh tracks. However, at this point the problem struck, Kirsty noticed headlamps in the distance – likely to be poachers. So we had to turn back in order to avoid a confrontation with them. Although we hadn’t seen any turtles this is to be expected – nature doesn’t follow our plans!

Our first hatchling experience came on Wednesday when Osa found a nest being predated. They saved 15 of them and brought them back to the centre to be released later under the protection of us volunteers. We headed to Piro beach at around 3pm with 6 of the 15 hatchlings in a bucket. They are literally the size of a ping pong ball with flippers sticking out. Cutest thing I’ve ever seen! After taking them to their nesting place we got to pick them up and place them nearby, allowing them to work out which direction to go using the light of the sea and the vibrations of the waves to orientate themselves. Chaperoning them down to the water to then watch them get swept into the sea with huge waves ahead makes you wonder how they survive but they’re tough and I sent Crush (the first to reach the sea) in with good vibes!

Finally yesterday lady luck was around. I had signed up to check the hatchery temperatures at 10pm so got down to the beach with 3 other volunteers at 9.30pm. Almost immediately we saw a turtle starting to lay her eggs! They have two types of turtles in Costa Rica; the Olive Ridley and the Green Turtle which can be huge! This was an olive ridley, the more common and she was just finishing digging her egg chamber. It’s a really humbling experience to watch. She dug out the hole, scooping the sand out with her back flipper then, when ready, dropping the eggs into the hole in ones and twos. We got to touch her shell and head as when laying they go into a sort of trance so aren’t bothered by us. The most amazing experience! Even if I didn’t see any more in my last week here, its already made my trip. A unique and magical experience I am so glad I signed up for!

By Toby Connock, Research Asssitant Volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer blog: Scarlett Robinson

The past week I have had the chance to stay a week at the satellite camp, Cerro Osa. Cerro Osa is a beautiful spot especially for sunsets as the hour or so uphill walk to get here means the view is amazing. At this camp we have the opportunity to work lots with the tree nursery which is being used to grow trees for reforestation. One day was spent by sorting through the nursery and getting rid of the failed seedlings and dead shoots.

The next morning consisted of filling up bags of soil ready to be put into the nursery to fill the empty spaces of the ones we removed. Then a few of us were lucky to go into the jungle with Osa conservation to look for seeds to put in the nursery, this consisted of adventurous off-trail walking up and down steep hills, dodging fallen trees, avoiding termite infested seeds and spotting lots of the amazing wildlife whilst doing so. We managed to find lots of seeds and trekked back with them in big sacs, learning Spanish throughout.

We then planted these seeds in the tree nursery in the soil bags we prepare before. As well as feeling like I made a huge difference with the tree nursery we also got to go on the trails around the area, sleep in beds, eat great food and use a refrigerator (which is something you begin to greatly miss after some time on main camp). Overall it's been an amazing week and a great experience, I would recommend making the most out of the satellite camps to everyone that comes here!

By Scarlett Robinson, Research Assistant Volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer blog: Krista Bennett

Just about the whole camp packed up their waters and cameras to head out for the sunset walk. I was feeling a little weary from the heat of the day, but the staff convinced us that the hike was completely worth it. The trek was an hour of a steep upward climb, half of which being sticky mud that sucks your wellies in. At the final stretch, you could see miles and miles of jungle surrounding us.

We passed the grazing cows and horses to find a field overlooking the depths of the jungle approaching the Pacific Ocean. All of us sat and watched the sunset over the hills, the sky was filled with an array of oranges, yellows and purples. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sunsets I've experienced. The light from the sky started to fade quickly, so we all grabbed our head torches and walked back down the trail to camp. We had a lovely dinner waiting for us back at camp, and a few of us star gazed before going to sleep in our hammocks. It was a wonderful last night at Piro, I'm going to miss this place dearly!

By Krista Bennett, Assistant Research Volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


ARO Blog: satellite camps

This summer, with the popularity of Frontier's Costa Rica project soaring, we've decided to spread our wings and create two extra 'satellite' camps close to us on the Osa Peninsula. This week, I've been lucky enough to be staying at the Carate camp at which is sits right on the edge of Corcovado national park, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

The satellite camp's main function is to provide support for the sea turtle conservation project. We do this by coordinating with them to arrange a schedule to patrol the beaches in the area as much as we can from dusk until dawn. During these patrols we collect data on the number of turtle tracks and nests that we find, as well performing health assessments on the turtles themselves when we see them. We also work to camouflage the tracks and nests that we find to make life as difficult as possible for poachers (who are still sadly a common sight in the area) when they come looking for eggs.

These walks are tough, lasting around 4 hours each on heavy sand, but can be so rewarding both for when we see the beautiful turtles themselves, and also for the stunning sunrises that we can see when dawn finally breaks.

Because this walking is tough, we spend a large part of our days here just relaxing and enjoying the hundreds of monkeys and birds that surround our cabin there. However, we do make ourselves useful in the afternoon, helping out the local workers with various tasks as they maintain the grounds of the lodge.

By the end of the week I was tired, but happy for being so heavily involved in an important turtle conservation project, as well as having a chance to live so close to Corcovado national park which is a true natural wonder.

By John Scott, Assistant Research Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer Blog: Sam Hughes

Loving the rainforest life! Yesterday myself and a few other volunteers took the collectivo from various satellite camps and the main camp to the local town, Puerto Jimenez, to go out on a boat for a day to see the Gulf and the wildlife in it.
We checked in to our usual hostel Oro Verde, went out for a meal and then had some drinks before going to the only club in PJ, which is not bad at all considering the size of the town.

The next day we got up at about 7 after not a huge amount of sleep, but all excited to (hopefully) see some dolphins! We were greeted on the pier by our very nice American guide who took us out on his boat and showed us some incredible coastline, with rainforest going right up to the sea. We stopped at a couple of places along the coast to snorkel along the reef where we saw some amazing marine life and an Olive Ridley turtle!

We continued further up the coast in the search of dolphins and sure enough after about 20 minutes we found a pod of bottle nose dolphins, who immediately came over and started playing around the boat. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life! We then got a couple of 'Plain Boards' out, which are basically chopping boards with handholds on which mean you can be towed behind the boat and by pointing it down you can dive underwater and swim with the dolphins! It was remarkable being so close to all the dolphins and seeing them playing around you, they are apparently the happiest dolphins in the world as there are no Orca's or other predators, but there is plenty of food for them.

After we all had a go on the boards, we went into a mangrove river which again was very impressive and there was a lot of wildlife around, especially birds. We spent the rest of the day chilling in town and we're about to go out for another meal to say goodbye to one of the volunteers who's leaving tomorrow.

All in all a great weekend, hopefully will get the chance to do it again in the 6 weeks I have left here.

By Sam Hughes, Volunteer Research Assistant

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer blog: Eilidh Robb

Before spending a month in Costa Rica on the Big Cats, Primates and Turtles Project I spent years poring over adventure books, watching wildlife documentaries and dreaming of life in the rainforest. But regardless of whether or not you are an adventure buff, an animal lover, a sun worshiper or you simply need to tick off some of your bucket list; Costa Rica is the place.

In terms of simply surviving in such a treacherous place, it’s amazing how quickly you can become accustomed to sleeping in a hammock, showering under the forest canopy and eating a vast array of weird and wonderful vegetables. Camp becomes unbelievably welcoming over time and nothing beats coming back from a busy day of surveying to the candlelit main deck and dinner. Also, an important note for those of you, like me, who worry about their stomachs, do not fear, a vegetable curry, mango chutney and Nan bread were made during my stay as well as bean burgers and potato skins. You won’t be eating beans and rice every day I promise.

Tribute is of course also paid to the fantastic volunteers I spent my month with on camp. After initially being overwhelmed by the 30 other volunteers who had been on camp for some time, I realised how easy it was to fit into a crowd where you all share a similar passion. I have been lucky enough to make friends for life, and meet some truly inspiring leaders and volunteers alike, and for that I will always be grateful.  

One of the days I will never forget was climbing up Death Creek, a small tributary which flows from the main river by camp. Only one group had travelled up the creek before, and it was truly eye opening to walk where barely any had walked before. Climbing over rocks, swimming through caverns and sustaining quite a few injuries was definitely worth it to stand under the waterfall at the end, in a totally secluded place of natural beauty.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I realised quite how lucky I had been to experience the things I had. I was lucky enough to see all four species of monkey (Spider, Howler, Squirrel and Capuchin), an anteater, agouti, paca, american crocodile, coati, poison dart frogs, red eyed tree frogs, mud turtles, basilisk lizards, scarlet macaws, toucans and many more. And lets face it, not every one can say that they plane boarded with wild dolphins, saw a shooting star in the amazing rainforest night sky, were within 2ft of a deadly fer-de-lance snake and showered in a waterfall.

Sitting at home, in an albeit unusually sunny Scotland, I miss my fellow volunteers laughing and bustling about me, I miss the families of squirrel monkeys playing above our main deck, I miss the adventure and I miss Costa Rica.

If you can, pull up your socks, throw on your wellies, slap on the mosquito repellent and get out there!

By Eilidh Robb, Volunteer Research Assistant

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer blog: Derry Stock

Several days ago marked my first venture onto Peje beach, one noted for being both very strenuous and very rewarding. After OSA work, I was fairly drained, but excited too at the notion of seeing a turtle, since that's the main reason I came here. After another good dinner, one other volunteer and I got ready, packing snacks, cameras and water for the trek ahead. Since I had never done it, the thought of a 16-17km trek along sand sounded very daunting, but it was still shadowed by the fact that in just several hours I could be laying my eyes on a sea turtle.

We set off on the hour long hike to the beach, all the while looking out for other animals, since I had heard that another volunteer had seen an ocelot on that very route just weeks beforehand. To see one is very rare, but there's no harm in trying! Unfortunately we didn't see an ocelot, but other animals became present as we marched onto the beach. We started the trail a little after 9, and began the walk to the end of Peje, a walk that would challenge even the fittest of people. Around half an hour passed, and someone whispered that they had spotted tracks. This was new to me, and as I waited eagerly to hear the outcome, it became apparent that there were exit tracks, and so we recorded the data and moved on. Just minutes later, another line of tracks was spotted, and this time there was a turtle at the end of the line! I was ecstatic, my first turtle!

The way the team handled the animal was very professional, and I couldn't fault them once, the turtle was at complete rest and our presence seemed to be welcomed. Once the data was collected, we soldiered on to the end where we took a well-deserved break. Our group was very lucky in that the sky was completely clear that night, and looking up was the most incredible feeling of wonder I think I've ever experienced. Painting a picture of the place is hard, because I've never known a single area to hold so much beauty, but I can at least describe the surroundings: picture walking along a beach, with every step bioluminescent plankton light up under your feet, and all you can hear is the faint sounds of the jungle and the waves crashing against the shore. Look up and you'll see the most incredibly picturesque view of the Milky Way, and the millions of stars around it. To the side, lightening, the faint flashes of a storm in the distance, but it was a dry night where we were so we could enjoy the show without getting wet, which is always a bonus!

Costa Rica is a truly inspiring place, and somewhere to be enjoyed wholeheartedly until the sad day that you have to leave. We only saw the one turtle that night, which was a win in my books, but in the following days I was lucky enough to see a hatchling running into the water too. Open your eyes and explore, because life's not guaranteed and you should make the most of every second! Costa Rica appears to be a lovely place to carry out this philosophy, and I certainly will be in the following weeks.

By Derry Stock, volunteer research assistant

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer blog: Natalie Signor

The Osa Peninsula is incredible! On camp we live with relatively simple conditions: two hammock decks, a tent deck, a main deck, two outhouses with flushing toilets, and two very cold showers. All of our running water comes from the local river here called Rio Piro. The water from the tap is completely safe to drink, and there is virtually no need for sterilization tablets. About 3 people on camp are assigned to cook lunch and dinner each day for everyone, and people can get pretty creative. Just this week we have had bread, refried bean burgers, shepherd's pie, and curry. 

The animals here are also unbelievable. We live in one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, and it shows. In the past couple of weeks there have been 2 ocelot sightings, Olive Ridley and Pacific Green turtles, and two otters. It should be noted though that seeing these animals is not guaranteed, especially with big cats as they are normally rare and very elusive. We also have all 4 species of monkeys (squirrel, spider, capuchin, and howler) coming through camp on a regular basis. 

We have Sundays off from surveys, and lots of times we take advantage if this by taking the collectivo bus into Puerto Jimenez. Here you can go to the grocery store, stay overnight in a hostel, and eat at western-style restaurants. It is also a big tourist town, with ample opportunities to go snorkelling, zip-lining, and other tours. This past weekend, about 8 of us volunteers planned a trip to go dolphin watching. It was 50 dollars per person, and our guide took us out for 5 hours. He took us into the Rio Tigre, where we saw 2 crocodiles and tons of cool birds. We then went back into the gulf and found a pod of 300 pan-tropical spotted dolphins. We followed them for several hours, with the dolphins swimming inches from our boat. It was an unforgettable day to say the least. 

By Natalie Signor, volunteer research assistant

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Project Coordinator: First Week Blog 

Although the small aeroplane that takes you from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez was at first, terrifying, the views gave me my first impressions of how beautiful Costa Rica is! I arrived at Puerto Jimenez and was straight away introduced to a number of very welcoming locals - another good first impression.

I started training by getting to know the Puerto Jimenez teaching project, the town, the volunteers there, and the school itself. The town is small but has everything that you need including smoothie bars, stationary shops, and supermarkets.

A couple of days later I moved down to the forest camp where I will mostly be based. The camp is basic but very comfortable, with a choice of tent or hammock sleeping decks depending on your preference. I was given a tour of all the essentials - shower, kitchen, survey sign up system... and in the evening it was dinner by candlelight followed by a documentary! Having been removed from their normal comforts and into the forest, the volunteers all seem very close and there are lots of good friends on camp; making it seem like a very nice environment to live in.

Surveys for birds, primates, and turtles run at different times day and night and I quickly realised how hard staff and volunteers work to make sure the science work is completed each day.

The Costa Rica projects are exciting projects to be a part of with new research, new educational partnerships, and a growing popularity with Frontiers volunteers. I look forward to my three months here and being a part of this!

By Laura Beasley, Costa Rica Project Coordinator

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.


Volunteer Blog: Victoria Harding

I have been here two weeks now and still, it feels like I only arrived yesterday. The days here, despite being very long, pass by in the blink of an eye and the next thing you know a week has gone by! Having an assortment of surveys available to you such as primates, turtles, butterflies, and otters means you are constantly able to fill your time with lots to do. However, you sign up to as many or as little surveys as you want, therefore, there is also space for down time where you can go to the river, read a book, or just chill.

As well as having these activities, just living in harmony amongst all the animals that surround us in such a biological hotspot is incredible. Witnessing my first wild howler monkey in a tree was just awesome. This week my highlight was definitely seeing my first pacific green turtle, and I was able to help in the process of tagging her! To know that I have made a difference in conservation is very rewarding. We were also lucky enough to see an olive ridley hatchling which was amazing! I think seeing an animal in its natural habitat is magical and a whole different experience from seeing it in a zoo, so in a nutshell; if you love animals then this project is made for you!

The staff here are also very welcoming and will try to cater to any things you are desperate to do. For example, if you really wanted to do a specific river or forest walk then they will do their best to fit you in.

When considering whether this project is right for you there are definitely some things you should consider:

1. The heat and humidity here is very intense and the walks can get very tiring. Therefore, you need to think about whether this climate is for you.

2. If you hate bugs, spiders or just creepy crawlers in general then this project would not suit you as we are frequently confronted with weird and wonderful creepy crawlies but they are all part of the experience and you very quickly become accustomed to sharing their forest home!

3. The surveys are great but do require a lot of walking which can be very tiring. So if your fitness level is good then you'll be fine but if not then if definitely suggest going on lots of long walks before you get here!

If you are fine with all of these things then pack loads of deet and sunscreen and make the most of every second!

By Victoria Harding, Volunteer Research Assistant

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.