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Costa Rica: Leatherback Turtles and Marine Debris Research

Help study the impacts of plastic pollution on leatherback turtle nesting habitat along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast on this family-friendly volunteer vacation.

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  • Help study the growing problem of plastic debris and its impacts to endangered leatherback sea turtles, and be a part of the solution.
  • Enjoy Costa Rica’s renowned natural beauty with plenty of time to explore the rainforest and coastline.
  • Bring your whole family to participate in this new volunteer program.

This special trip is offered in partnership with SEE Turtles to study how pollution may be impacting leatherback sea turtle nesting habitat at Las Tortugas Research Station on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. As a volunteer on this 8-day family-friendly program you will learn first-hand about the problem of plastic pollution and its impacts to wildlife, while also helping clean the beach.

On three nights you will patrol the beach looking for nesting leatherback turtles and hatching nests, while helping scientists assess debris types and densities along the beach by day. We’ll spend two days exploring the rainforest and snorkeling the coast of Cahuita National Park, where we may see sloths, monkeys, and other wildlife. Spend your vacation helping to save sea turtles!

Trip Dates & Cost

2018: June 17-24. From $2,195 per person.*

* Trip prices do not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.


Dr. Chris Pincetich is a marine biologist and marine debris researcher active in sea turtle conservation. Chris first worked with Oceanic Society in 2012 focusing on leatherback sea turtles in California and first led a sea turtle ecotour with SEE Turtles in 2013. He is an instructor for the California Naturalist training program and enjoys cleaning beaches of plastic pollution in California and around the world.


Day 1: Arrival
Fly into San Jose (SJO) and you will be picked up at the airport and transferred to a quiet locally-owned hotel nearby.

Day 2: Butterfly Farm & Transfer to Research Station
After breakfast, hop on the private bus to head to the Caribbean coast. You’ll pass through a dense rainforest on your way over the continental divide and stop at the Jardin Pierella Butterfly Farm, a great introduction to the incredible flora and fauna of the country. See dozens of varieties of butterflies as well as red-eyed tree frogs and poison dart frogs, and much more. Then head to a nearby school for a cultural presentation and lunch.

In the afternoon, you’ll arrive to a boat launch to take a 20 min boat ride down the Tortuguero canals as the final leg of the ride to the Las Tortugas Research Station. Once there, check into your basic rooms and get ready to learn. The Las Tortugas staff will give a presentation about sea turtles as well as a training for the night beach patrols. Nesting season is coming to an end but you have a chance to see a giant leatherback turtle nesting or possibly an early season green turtle coming up to nest.

Please note that Las Tortugas is a remote research station and not a hotel. The rooms are very basic with beds and bathrooms shared between two rooms. There is no hot water or internet service and electricity is limited to a light in the rooms (energy comes from solar panels). Meals are simple and often include rice and beans, salad, and additional dishes like chicken, meat, or pasta. The ocean here is not swimmable due to strong currents.

Day 3: Hatchling Turtles & Marine Debris
This is a great time of year for leatherback hatchlings. There is a good likelihood to have some hatch during our visit, which we may be able to help release into the sea. You can also help to study them, as some baby turtles from each nest are measured and weighed before release. Today, you’ll also learn about the impact of plastic in the ocean and on the beach to sea turtles.

Dr. Pincetich will give a presentation about turtles and plastic and train everyone on data collection for the beach clean-up. More than one large plastic bag of trash ends up in the ocean for every foot of coastline every year, so even on remote beaches like this one, trash washes ashore, complicating nesting for turtles and the ability of hatchlings to get to the water from the nest. The group will participate in a beach clean-up, keeping track of what is found. That evening, head out again to the beach to look for nesting turtles.

Day 4: Rainforest Boat Ride & More Turtles
This morning after breakfast, the group will take a boat tour of the rainforest canals near the research station. This is a calm, quiet boat ride that offers great opportunities to see wildlife including howler monkeys, sloths, caiman, lots of birds, and more. In the afternoon, you’ll help to clean another section of beach as part of the research study and then have some downtime to relax before the final night of beach patrols.

Day 5: Transfer to Cahuita & Beach Time
After breakfast, take the boat to meet your private bus for a 2 hour trip to the Southern Caribbean coast. You’ll arrive in time to have a delicious picnic lunch at Cahuita National Park, one of the country’s most beautiful white sand beaches. If weather allows, take a snorkeling trip in the afternoon to the country’s largest coral reef. Cahuita is a great place to see capuchin monkeys, sloths, and other wildlife. Spend the entire afternoon at the beach and then head back to your comfortable cabins to shower up and prepare for dinner.

Day 6: Yorkin Indigenous Reserve
Today you’ll learn about indigenous culture on a fascinating visit to a remote reserve in the Talamanca mountains. Drive an hour inland to meet a small dugout canoe manned by members of the reserve, taking the boat up the small river to the reserve. For part of the trip, one side of the river will be Costa Rica and the other Panama! At the reserve, you’ll receive a tour and learn about how they grow organic cacao and bananas and use many of the plants for medicine. A traditional lunch is served on banana leaves and then comes the best part—tasting the fresh chocolate and learning how it’s made, from seed to powder.

Day 7: Beach Morning and Return to San Jose
Head to Cahuita National Park for one more dip in the ocean and then board the private bus for the 4 hour drive back to the Central Valley. You’ll stay at the same comfy cabins near the airport and arrive in time for dinner.

Day 8: Departure
Head to the airport in time for your flight, taking your memories, photos, and souvenirs home to share with friends and family.


For most of the trip we will stay in comfortable and locally-owned hotels with modern amenities. Over three nights of the program we will stay in the rustic Las Tortugas Research Station in rooms with bunk beds, shared bathrooms, limited electricity, and no hot water.

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