Staff blog: The shortest rainforest walk in history

Dan the new Assistant Research Officer and I felt great to be let out on our own in the rainforest for the first time without our experienced guides jess and kirsty. The task was simple, go to the beach and check the temperatures of the hatchery, between us and the beach, a 2 kilometre walk. 

As we set off down the road we saw a glint up ahead, a snake at the side of the road. Managing to squeeze past it on the opposite side we still felt we could complete our task and take a different route back to camp. Having crossed the river swollen by the evenings rain we were surprised by a water buffalo in the road blocking our path at the side of the road.  

Now we had heard that volunteers had ridden it and thought it be tame, but had no idea how it would react without its owner. We radioed back to base and while we were waiting, the beast stubbornly refused to move.

Eventually Kirsty told us that if we did not feel comfortable we should come back, so we turned back tail between our legs, feeling like the most wimpish staff members in history, oh well there's always next time.

By Alex Caldwell

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


Volunteer blog: Sam Wilson

Costa Rica is a country blessed with such natural beauty it can evoke the most vehement human emotion. Everyday spent here you are able to witness the bittersweet occurrences that exist in our natural world. From the sheer maternal beauty of an Olive Ridley Sea turtle nesting, to the harsh reality of the struggle her young are placed under in the face if mammalian and avian predation. At moments the picturesque beaches bath in the golden glory of the sun, only to be instantly transformed by torrents of wind and rages of rain. The temperamental nature of this tropical weather itself is a sight to behold.

The forest is rich with life, species thrive as they should, in their natural environment, to witness the ecological systems present is astounding. Trees tower as large as buildings, hundreds upon hundreds of different species of birds inhabit the generous and giving canopy, primates frolic, fight, and feed on the bounty provided by the forest. Reptiles and amphibians surround the forest floor supported by a massive array of invertebrates too vast to comprehend.

I would strongly recommend visiting one of the most bio diverse regions on earth, particularly Corcovado national park with a local guide. Regardless of whether or not you travel with frontier I would definitely recommend a visit to Costa Rica.

By Sam Wilson, Assistant Research Volunteer

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


Staff blog: Turtle Hatchery 

Emerging from the sand into the light, I’m getting trampled on by siblings and scrambling around looking for the ocean to begin the long journey into adulthood. There is a mesh in the way but I can see the sunlight from above. After what feels like an eternity a large shape comes amongst us and takes us one by one, we end up in another container but still able to see the light. After a swaying trip we are finally where we belong, back on the blackened sand facing the shiny ocean. It’s a long journey to the ocean, and shorts bursts of energy get us all closer. I can see the others around me and other onlookers beyond, I go on ignoring them. After each resting period I spurt forward ever closer until a wave comes upon me and I am on my way, to live…

On Piro beach, here on the Osa Peninsula we help at a hatchery. There are uncertain and dangerous parts of the beach which have an ever changing landscape which the laying turtles can’t take into account when they come ashore. It is peak Olive Ridley season and the eggs take 46-60 days to hatch from laying. The turtles come shore to lay at night and occasionally in the day, half the beach is often changing due to a river that moves with the rainfall and tides. This can completely take a nest into sea or get salt water on the eggs, which kills them due to the salt taking moisture out of them.

The hatchery program means that we relocate the nests a few hours after they have been laid by the turtle to the hatchery. We measure how deep and wide the egg chamber is, so we can create a new nest to the same specifications, also take some sand from the nest to line the new one. Carefully remove the eggs one by one, keeping them the same orientation that they were placed in and place them in a bucket for easy carrying to the hatchery. We can move up to 145 eggs and several nests can be laid each night in the sectors that are at risk. Once in the hatchery we dig the new nest and place the eggs in, cover the area with a plastic mesh with netting over. The mesh is to keep the turtles in their nest once they have hatched from their eggs, it would not be good to have them crawling all over the hatchery once they emerged and the netting is to keep flies out. A few have thermometers planted inside so we can keep check of the temperatures and we randomly place the nests in the shade on one side of the hatchery and the sun on the other. Turtles sex is determined by temperature and with global warming it is important there is not a population crash due to there being no males, which need the cooler temperatures. 

We monitor the nests three times a day and once they hatch, measure and weigh the first 20 hatchling out of the nest.  Take them back to the same part of the beach they are found and let them walk down to the sea. We never place them at the shoreline as they need the information from the sand to imprint in them so they can possibly come back to the same beach when it is their time to lay.

We have helped them on their way, watching them with hope making it to the water when they may have otherwise perished. We have had some very high tides this year possibly due to climate change, which would have undoubtedly killed these otherwise lucky turtles and it feels good to help these endangered, ancient animals, which through no fault of their own is now facing a troubled future. 

By Jessamy Bridgwater, Conservation Apprentice

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


Volunteer Blog: Jessen

There are two BTEC programmes to choose from when you join a Frontier project - the Certificate which is four weeks and the Advanced Diploma which is ten weeks. I am working on the Advanced Diploma which means I get to spend ten weeks on the beautiful Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. You will receive a BTEC information pack prior to your departure which tells you everything you need to know except the subject of your investigation - that's entirely up to you!

Initially, I expected to research mammals or turtles for mine but once I got here, that plan fell apart! I am now six weeks in and researching the feeding behaviour of Leafcutter Ants. You never know what will interest you the most until you arrive on the project. Leafcutter ants have the largest and most complex societies on earth after humans and just seeing this in real life triggered an immediate interest.

The BTEC itself doesn't take up much of your time so you can still go on plenty of surveys and enjoy the breathtaking country you are in. My advice for anyone interested in undertaking one of the Frontier BTEC programmes is to bring plenty of pens as they are not the easiest things to find. Once I arrive back home having done all of my data collection, I will have six weeks to compile all of my data and research into a written report. After this, my work will be assessed and graded and that concludes the BTEC! I would definitely recommend the BTEC as it keeps you occupied and makes the trip even more meaningful by conducting your own research.

By Jessen, Research Assistant Volunteer

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


Staff blog: Enjoying all of Costa Rica

My first impression of Costa Rica was ‘green, hot and humid’. I arrived in Puerto Jimenez after a long journey and was picked up in the airport (‘at the airstrip’) by a Frontier employee, who then showed me the town and explained about the project. PJ is well-stocked and has just about everything you may need for your trip and your work: from brightly coloured hammocks to biodegradable soap and shampoo and even machetes (!) which many buy as souvenirs. There’s also a medical clinic, ‘print and copy centre’ and ATMs. In short, everything you may need.

After a couple of pleasant days in town I headed off for the jungle camp with other Frontier people, staff as well as volunteers. The trip is conducted by the local shuttle service (‘the collectivo’) and it is not for the faint-hearted.

The camp itself is basic but has everything: two ‘normal’ toilets, two outdoor showers (very pleasant), a comfortable main deck and three sleeping decks, as well as a lot of clothing lines which you will soon find are needed. You can hear the rumbling waves on one side, the river on the other side and birds and howler monkeys all over the place. At night fireflies glow in the grass around the camp and people get together on the main deck for dinner, chatting and games. There is a very relaxed atmosphere which is very comfortable to be in, particularly when you are new and still reeling from culture shock.

When the sun comes up, it is immediately evident that you are in the jungle. It is green and lush all over, and teeming with life. In my first five days I saw three species of monkey, several species of birds and butterflies, one snake (beware!) and one Neotropical otter which we accidentally flushed out as we were on break from doing a river survey.  A particular spider has also developed a fondness for my right sandal and sits faithfully by it every night I go to bed. You learn to shrug at these things. I was also lucky enough to see two releases of baby turtles into the sea, which was nothing short of fantastic.

The survey trails are beautiful but can be complicated by obstacles and slippery slopes, so be prepared. Wellies are a most, preferably with good grip. Water is another thing on which you should never restrict yourself when doing work in the jungle, so bring plenty of containers and use them.

All in all, Costa Rica is a paradise of biodiversity that shouldn’t be missed. 

By Alexandra Hyldgaard

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


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.