Responsible tourism: Costa Rica sea turtles conservation vacation
Our projects are not tours, photographic safaris or excursions but genuine research expeditions, promoting sustainable conservation and preservation of the planet's wildlife by forging alliances between scientists and the public. Our goal is to make, through our expedition work, an active contribution towards a sustainable biosphere. We believe in empowering ordinary people by placing them at the centre of scientific study and by actively involving them out in the field, where there is conservation work to be done.
We are a multi-award winning (including multiple awards from Responsible Travel), not-for-profit organisation committed to running real wildlife conservation research expeditions to all corners of the Earth.
Humans have always used the products and sub-products of sea turtles as a source of nutrition and handicrafts. However, as the human population increases, the demand for these products also rises, creating a black market and huge pressure on the sea turtles – primarily for the consumption of the meat and eggs. Since the first studies on nesting sea turtles on the Caribbean shores of Costa Rica in the 1970s, it is clear that human demand is at unsustainable levels, threatening the survival of all seven species of sea turtles.
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth-heaviest modern reptile behind three crocodilians. It can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles by its lack of a bony shell. Instead, its carapace is covered by skin and oily flesh. The leatherback turtle is the sea turtle species with the widest global range, spanning all oceans as far as the arctic circles. Scientists have tracked a leatherback turtle that swam from Indonesia to the U.S. in a 20,000 km foraging journey over a period of 647 days. Leatherbacks follow their jellyfish prey throughout the day, resulting in turtles preferring deeper water in the daytime, and shallower water at night (when the jellyfish rise up in the water column). Leatherback turtles are known to pursue prey deeper than 1,000 m - beyond the physiological limits of all other diving animals except for beaked whales and sperm whales.
The three major, genetically distinct populations occur in the Atlantic, eastern Pacific, and western Pacific Oceans. Whilst the species as a whole is classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List, the Atlantic subpopulation of this project is considered to be Critically Endangered. Recent estimates of global nesting populations are that 26,000 to 43,000 females nest annually, which is a dramatic decline from the 115,000 estimated in 1980. Direct utilisation of turtles or eggs for human use (consumption and commercial products) is one of the major threats and as such the focus for this project through direct conservation action such as nest and nesting ground protection and ensuring hatchling success.
The project involves community members alongside international citizen scientist in its conservation activities, recruiting local people as research and conservation assistants, and giving them an alternative income to poaching. This is urgently needed in what is a very isolated and vulnerable community, with very few educational and employment opportunities.
Through the construction of an uncontaminated hatchery, as a safe incubation zone for each nest laid on Pacuare beach, the project collects data from eggs and hatchlings and protects nests from predation and poachers. The leatherback turtle nesting season runs from February through until July, with peak nesting activity in April and May. The project is made possible by the cooperation of the local community – The Environmental Association of Nuevo Pacuare – and the local coastguards and meets the standards and protocols set by MINAET (Ministerio de Ambiente y Technologia) for handling turtles and their eggs.
We always work in close conjunction with local people and scientists and try our best to ensure that the fruits of our expedition work benefit our local helpers, their society and the environment they live in. Adventure, remote locations, different cultures and people are part and parcel of our expeditions, but also the knowledge that you will have played an active role in conserving part of our planet's biosphere. We exist for those who, through their hands-on work, want to make a difference to the survival of the particular species or habitat under investigation, and to the world at large. We invite everyone to come and join us out in the field, at the forefront of conservation, to work, learn, experience and take responsible guardianship of our planet.
To achieve this we will wherever possible: + collaborate with reputable scientists, research institutions and educational establishments (wherever possible from the host nation) who are experts in their field + collaborate with organisations and businesses which operate in an ethical and/or sustainable way + operate in an ethical and sustainable way, minimising negative impacts on local cultures, environments and economies + publish results and recommendations based on collaborative work together with those who helped gather data and draw conclusions.
Our partner on this citizen science conservation vacation is Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) who represent WIDECAST (the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Network in Costa Rica). LAST has over 28 years of experience in sea turtle management and research and have initiated projects to monitor reefs, trained national park rangers in monitoring turtle nesting and educated hundreds of local students on the importance of marine and coastal conservation. They also act as environmental advisors to the government on marine environments, participate in several local, national and international networks and publish articles to improve the knowledge about the ocean and its life. In order to reduce threats to sea turtles, and to restore population levels, LAST has implemented a series of sea turtle management programmes on many of the Caribbean beaches in Costa Rica – including Pacuare beach. When the Pacuare project started in 2004, it was just for egg protection and no data were collected. WIDECAST took over the investigation in 2007 and LAST have become the sole researchers since 2012.
All missions are developed with local partners and scientists, as well as community representatives where appropriate. This consultation serves to minimise negative impacts on local cultures. This is often developed through a more complete integration into the local community, by working alongside them to achieve a conservation objective.
Accommodation varies from fixed camps, jungle lodges to tents. Where applicable, these will be owned locally.
Where possible food is sourced from locally supplied produce and ideally from organic sources.
Where applicable, team members are encouraged to spend their relaxation time using local facilities and resources.
We always work in close conjunction with local people and makes sure that the fruits of our work benefit local helpers, their society and the environment they live in.
Briefings before the start of the mission and leaders during the mission highlight relevant social issues and offer best practice examples to team members.