These days, “connecting” is all about being online, checking social media and uploading beautifully filtered photos. But as a turtle volunteer, WiFi may be limited and flash photography is banned on night patrols. Instead, you’ll connect nature, spending days (and nights) on the sand and in the sea. You’ll connect with local communities, school children and likeminded volunteers. That’s the kind of connection we love.
Most volunteers have visions of themselves standing guard over nesting mothers and vulnerable hatchlings. But often, the most valuable volunteer work can be in education: teaching children about ecosystems and turtles, helping communities find alternative incomes to selling meat and eggs, explaining that eggs are not aphrodisiacs. It might not be as Instagrammable – but it’s a long term and effective solution, and it really works.
Turtle conservation in Ghana is very much in its infancy still – which is all the more reason to volunteer on its beaches, facing out into the Gulf of Guinea. On these sands, whipped by Saharan winds, you’re far more likely to be patrolling alongside local rangers rather than other tourists, as you protect nesting leatherbacks from poachers, fishing boats and heavy nets.
Living on a beach, you might think the only footwear worth packing is flip flops. But don’t underestimate how far you will be walking on night patrols. Getting to the end of a 5km beach and back is 10km, and with a few detours added in, the distances soon start to add up, so make sure your feet are comfy. Long sleeves and trousers are also handy; you won’t be cold, but mosquitoes are extra thirsty after dusk, so come prepared.
In Pacuare Nature Reserve, on the Pacific coast, work with leatherbacks nesting in March-April, with hatching starting around May. Along the Pacific Coast, there are several project locations so you can choose the style of trip that suits you, from remote and rustic to more community focused. Alternatively, join a local scientist for a week long “expedition”, monitoring leatherbacks on an isolated, black sand beach.
: A sea turtle conservation vacation is one of the best family volunteering placements out there. Many nesting seasons coincide with school vacations, the work is safe and easy to learn, and to top it off, you’ll be living on a beach. You many even find you’ve created a new generation of marine conservationists, scientists or activists – with lessons learned on the sand sure to stick for life.
With turtle conservation still hatching in Thailand, remote projects like one on Koh Phra Thong enable you to contribute to essential turtle monitoring and protection and escape tourist crowds, stay in homestays, educate communities and enjoy life on the beach. Not always leisurely, with packed days monitoring, teaching and restoring natural habitats – but it’s paying off, as turtle numbers are slowly rising.
A long running project in southwest Sri Lanka has been preserving nesting sites, maintaining hatcheries and caring for weaker hatchlings, releasing them only once they are strong enough to stand a chance of surviving at sea. In combination with classes in local primary school, the project has had an incredible impact on turtle numbers – this is a hugely rewarding project to volunteer on.
Richly coloured, exquisitely patterned and gently translucent; tortoiseshell has captivated craftspeople and aesthetes for centuries. But its origins are less beautiful: it comes from the shells of endangered sea turtles, mainly the hawksbill. Despite a ban on the tortoiseshell trade, there is a thriving black market, particularly in the Far East, and many turtles are killed each year for their shells, which sell for hundreds of pounds – or more.
Sea turtles are pelagic creatures, spending most if not all of their lives in the open ocean. No matter how pleasant an aquarium may seem, it can never recreate these conditions. Some aquariums exist to shelter sick or injured turtles, with some being rehabilitated and rereleased into the wild – but many turtles are held in captivity purely to entertain tourists and earn money for the aquarium. Avoid.
We all love waking up right on the beach, or falling asleep to the sound of the waves. But if these are beaches where turtles nest, this can be disastrous. Mothers can become distressed and release their eggs at sea, while hatchlings, disorientated by the lights, may never find their way into the water. Do your research about how responsible these accommodations are – read more on our responsible tourism page.
Breeding endangered species in captivity may seem like a good idea – but in practice, it rarely results in reintroduction into the wild, and when it does, there can be issues with genetic stock and interbreeding. In reality, many facilities are just glorified zoos. The worst case is that they are farms – which make money from visitors, from selling the turtles on to aquariums – and finally, from the turtle meat. Yes, really.