A Turtle-ific Month in Costa Rica! Alyssa A.
My name is Alyssa, and I’m 22 years old, residing in the charming, remote town of St. Ives in Cornwall, UK.
In July 2022, I graduated with a first-class honours degree in Biology. Growing up near the ocean, I developed a passion for conservation, particularly marine conservation. Volunteering abroad was always my first step after graduation, and I was fortunate enough to find the perfect program through Global Work & Travel, focusing on marine turtle conservation.
Volunteering may seem like offering your time to those in need, but after arriving to Costa Rica, I quickly realized that I would gain far more from the invaluable experiences they had to offer. Ostional, located on the Pacific (west) coast of Costa Rica, is a nesting site for three different marine turtle species: Olive Ridley, Green, and Leatherback. Adjusting to life in Ostional was surprisingly easy, though it's a unique living experience with only one shop, two restaurants, and twelve local families. Coming from St. Ives, I didn't think I could find a smaller place! Initially, sharing a dormitory was a bit intimidating for a first-time solo traveler, but I was instantly welcomed by like-minded individuals from around the world, with whom I formed lifelong friendships. Traveling truly encompasses not just the places you visit, but also the people you meet!
The work at the refuge was a stark contrast to my usual hospitality job back home, but it was undeniably more rewarding. Arriving amidst an infamous Arribada, the mass synchronized nesting of Olive Ridley turtles, meant I was immediately put to work. Walking along the beach during an Arribada is an indescribable feeling—taking extra steps to avoid thousands of turtles arriving on the beach was more rewarding than inconvenient. Arribadas are mostly unpredictable but tend to occur in sync with the lunar cycle of roughly 28 days. Unfortunately, I didn't witness this spectacular sight again during my trip.
Typically, the work at Ostional involved beach cleaning, night patrols, and occasional chores to assist the staff. Beach cleans provided the perfect opportunity to bask in the 30-degree heat while maintaining a conducive nesting environment for the turtles. Night patrols could be challenging, lasting four hours from either 7pm-11pm or 12am-4am, but they were well worth it when witnessing multiple Olive Ridley turtles nesting. The refuge collects data that contributes to a national database, including measurements of the turtles, the nest depth, and the number of eggs laid. Each night patrol allowed me to immerse myself in the data collection process and experience up-close encounters with my favorite animal. The most incredible part of the job was releasing baby green turtles. Green turtles are rarer than the Olive Ridley in Costa Rica, and unfortunately, the sand is toxic to their eggs. Luckily, the refuge has its own hatchery with carefully filtered sand for green and even rarer leatherback turtle eggs. During my stay, I had the privilege of releasing a total of 100 baby green turtles from two different nests. Watching these little ones scramble towards the ocean, ready to embark on their journey to adulthood, will undoubtedly remain a cherished memory for the rest of my life. I am forever grateful to the refuge for allowing me to work alongside these magnificent creatures.
While it may seem like the trip was filled with turtle activities, it wasn't all hard work. There was plenty of free time during the day to visit the nearby town of Nosara for one of the best pain au chocolats in the world (yes, Café de Paris, I'm looking at you!), or explore the local thrift market. With weekends off, there were ample opportunities to discover the wonders of the Pacific coast. It was also incredible to experience the more touristy areas of Costa Rica, as Ostional truly felt like home. I visited both Tamarindo and Samara, and there was never a dull moment—be it snorkeling among hundreds of exotic fish or returning to the hostel after indulging in copious amounts of gin!