Marine turtles (popularly known as “sea turtles”) are well-liked by all, herpers and “other” people alike. They are, in many ways, creatures of great mystery, yet opportunities to become involved in hands-on research with them abound.
My first field research outside of the USA was with green turtles (Chelonia midas) at Tortuguero, Costa Rica…a place I had been longing to visit since reading So Excellent a Fishe, written by legendary turtle biologist Archie Carr (if you are at all interested in sea turtles or the American tropics in general, please do not miss this book, there’s none other like it).
Archie Carr – the Visionary at Tortuguero
The Caribbean Conservation Corporation operates the world’s longest-running sea turtle monitoring program, and manages the now famous research station at Tortuguero. It was the world’s only sea turtle protection organization when formed by Archie Carr in 1959, and remains the most influential.
The CCC has always relied heavily upon volunteer researchers, and many who have roamed Tortuguero’s beaches have gone on to interesting careers in herpetology…certainly my own experiences there are still an influence after nearly 25 years. The 5 decades’ worth of data gathered by program participants forms the foundation of nearly all that is currently known about the biology of sea turtles in the Caribbean.
Volunteer Opportunities and Contributions
CCC researchers become involved in all aspects of marine turtle field work – counting and re-locating eggs, monitoring nest success, and, most thrilling of all, tagging the huge females at night as they finish nesting (often carried out while mounted on the turtle as she scrambles for the sea!).
Depending upon the season, participants may work with green turtles, 1,200 pound leatherbacks, or both. Studies focusing on the area’s incredible diversity of birdlife (over 300 species have been recorded) are also conducted. An amazing assortment of other wildlife, including jaguars, kinkajous, caiman, tarantulas of several varieties, jaguarundi, tapirs, and strawberry poison frogs, assures that you will be as awestruck as was I.
You can learn more at http://www.cccturtle.org/. There are turtle tagging opportunities here in the USA as well… please look for future articles on diamondback terrapin tagging and other programs.