Home | Conservation | Volunteering in Marine Conservation – Sea Turtles, Seals and Horseshoe Crabs

Volunteering in Marine Conservation – Sea Turtles, Seals and Horseshoe Crabs

Frank Indiviglio with nesting Leatherback TurtleHello, Frank Indiviglio here. Today I’d like to highlight some simple ways that you can become involved in hands-on research with marine animals. Next time we’ll take a look at programs designed for people interested in fishes.

Sea Turtle Research in Costa Rica

The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, founded in 1959 by legendary turtle biologist Archie Carr, was the world’s first marine turtle protection organization. Promoting conservation through research, and political advocacy, CCC is based in Florida, and its primary field station is nestled between rainforest and sea at Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Volunteer researchers have always figured prominently in the group’s work, and today a number of interesting opportunities are available.

Sea Turtles, Jaguars and Frogs … My Experience with CCC

My first field trip to Tortuguero, working with green turtles and 1,500 pound leatherbacks, hooked me for life. I and other researchers tagged and measured turtles, counted eggs, and monitored nests.

I also participated in studies focusing on the area’s 300+ bird species and was lucky enough to see kinkajous, caimans, ocelots, tapirs, jaguar tracks (overlapping my own!), arboreal tarantulas, strawberry poison frogs and a host of other incredible animals.

Working with Seals

Frank Indiviglio with baby leatherback turtlesSeals of several species are becoming increasingly common in coastal urban areas, where they face threats from boat collisions, harassment and pollution-related diseases. The Seal Conservation Society maintains a comprehensive list of organizations that assist injured seals and provides information for those interested in becoming wildlife rehabilitators, beach monitors or “seal watch” tour leaders.

Untrained people should not approach seals – injured animals and females returning from hunting to claim their pups can be extremely dangerous. In the USA, sick or harassed seals can be reported to the local police or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s 24 hour emergency hotline: 800-853-1964.

Helping a Living Fossil

Most people do not realize that no intravenous drug produced in the USA reaches the market without first having been tested with a chemical produced by an ocean-dwelling relative of the spiders.

Compounds within the blood of the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) far surpass synthetics in detecting drug impurities. Biomedical companies draw blood from millions of these ancient (as in “unchanged for over 200 million years”!) creatures yearly. Although horseshoe crabs harvested for blood samples are released, coastal development and collection for the bait trade has caused US populations to plummet.

Based in the Northeastern USA, Project Limulus relies upon volunteers to monitor over 5,000 spawning horseshoe crabs each spring in an effort to help formulate conservation strategies.

Over 17,000 horseshoe crabs have been tagged by US Geological Service volunteers working along the Delaware Bay. Their work seeks to assist both horseshoe crabs and a shorebird known as the red knot. Undertaking one of the longest known bird migrations (Argentina to the Arctic), red knots somehow time a stopover on their trip to coincide with the spawning of the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population. Red knots rely upon horseshoe crab eggs to fuel the last leg of their amazing journey, and have suffered massive declines since this food source has become scarce.

Further Reading

Please see my article Hands on Experiences in Sea Turtle Conservation for further information on working in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…please write in if you are interested in other research opportunities. I’ll cover fish-oriented programs in the future. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.


  1. avatar

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing. I, too, have a passion for sea turtles and have had some amazing experiences. One place I like to support is a government project in Camaronal, which is the only place sea turtles come year-round. They are under-funded and need the help. http://www.tropicaladventures.com/projects_camaronal.php?p=camaronal

  2. avatar

    Hello Scott, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words.

    Camaronal is a fine project, and I’m happy to give it some exposure here.

    Good luck, enjoy turtling, and please keep me posted on your experiences.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    dude how can that happen i nevr saw a turtle that big

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.