Volunteer Research Assistants - Sea Turtle Research Costa Rica

Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation and Science (COASTS)
Ostional, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
May 01, 2017
Jun 30, 2017
Volunteer RA Costa Rica
Job Level
Entry level
Salary Type

Project: Sea Turtle Research in Costa Rica (Pacific Coast)

Organisation: Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation and Science (COASTS)  

Project Duration: July 1st till September 30th, 2017.

Term of Appointment: A minimum of six weeks is required, but a longer stay is desirable.


Background and Project Description

The study we are seeking research assistants for falls into the realm of conservation biology and encompasses mainly data-collection in the field. 

Our field sites are spread out along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and we use morphometric trait analysis, life-history data, stable isotope analysis, and satellite telemetry to shed light onto the foraging strategies and habitat-use of olive ridley females in the Costa Rican population.

The olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is the smallest of seven sea turtle species and is behaviourally the most interesting. Within the same nesting population, we have females that nest independently from each other, just like any other sea turtle species, but we also have females that nest synchronised en-masse (called arribadas) in aggregations of thousands to hundreds of thousands of females. These arribadas only exist at about a dozen beaches worldwide, and Ostional (one of our field sites) is one of them.

We will need research assistants that help with any of the accruing tasks throughout the field season. The work schedule will be very dynamic, and will be structured as demanded by the work. This means long hours, no weekends, no holidays, no fixed days of and no fixed finishing time.

Each successful applicant will receive a training on-site pertaining to the tasks incurring. As an example, some work will be during the day on a boat, and in-water, capturing sea turtles by hand and sampling blood and tissue on a small fishing boat, other parts will be at night, surveying for and capturing nesting females. We will install radio transmitters to follow individual females throughout their nesting season, and we will also deploy ARGOS satellite transmitters, to follow females on their post-nesting migrations.

Most of the local field personnel only speak Spanish and the research team will be a mixture of different nationalities. Hence, successful applicants should be aware of cultural differences and should be comfortable in an international environment. 

The work encompasses walking for long distances (up to 30 km) in soft sand at night without light, climbing small mountains, restraining animals for several hours, and catching turtles by hand in the water, thus adequate physical fitness in these conditions, being comfortable on a boat and in deep water, and a lack of squeamishness is required. 

Ultimately, the research assistant is expected to be a true assistant, assisting with all daily tasks and the ongoing research and being able to solve problems independently and proactively. Successful applicants are part of a small research team, and will spend a lot of time with the other team members, due to long working hours, and shared quarters. A dedication to a positive and respectful working environment is a crucial necessity. We are seeking enthusiastic individuals that understand the importance of our work, and that are willing to complete the work meticulously and with dedication. We need our assistants to pull their own weight and be willing to pitch in and carry more if another team member is unable to. Successful applicants will be flexible individuals that are able to focus on a variety of tasks, such as: data collection, handling animals, handling equipment, data entry, equipment maintenance, cooking meals, cleaning quarters, and several long car trips for different purposes (e.g. to store samples, to sample animals on other beaches, or to refill depleted stocks of equipment etc.). 

Our “home base” will be in the small village of Ostional (Guanacaste) on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where we will be staying with host families (not necessarily together). Additionally, we will have to make trips up and down the Pacific coast to sample other females on other nesting beaches, and lodging will depend upon where we will be for the night. The infrastructure in Ostional is that of a developing country, and conditions are currently relatively rustic, with dirt roads and cold showers, but a close-by ranger station is providing slow and unreliable internet. Meals will be provided by the host family, but we might have to eat out when on tour. Cellular phone reception is patchy throughout the region we will be working in, with no reception whatsoever in certain areas and beaches. If applicants want to use a cell phone they will need to obtain their own phones and will have to pay for their own calls.

The climate is typically very warm and humid, with a rainy season (late May through October), and a very hot dry season (November through May). Precautions should be taken to avoid diseases by consulting an MD specialized in travel to tropical countries and following his instructions: e.g. ensure that you have the proper vaccinations, mosquito repellent, field first aid kit, which are the responsibility of the successful applicant.

The closest international airport in Costa Rica is Liberia (LIR) (or San Jose (SJO) in the beginning of the season), and because we do not want to cut sampling trips to the other end of the country short, we will have predetermined arrival and departure dates:
June 29/30 –SJO
July 14 – LIR
August 16 – LIR
August 30 – LIR
September 20 – LIR
September 30 – SJO


  • 18+ years old
  • BA or BSc in Biology, Wildlife Biology, Ecology, Marine Biology, or other related field or experiences
  • Travel Health Insurance (!)
  • Willingness to sign an indemnification and waiver (!)
  • Excellent physical fitness and ability to walk long distances in soft sand and steep terrain.
  • Ability to carry 50 pounds, and restrain a 90 pound animal for several hours
  • Being comfortable living in remote, shared and rustic conditions (no AC, no internet, only cold showers, shared rooms, next medical care station several hours away)
  • Positive and up-beat personality, even in the face of sleep deprivation
  • Fluency in English, basic level of Spanish desirable, but not a requirement
  • Not prone to sea-sickness (or way of avoiding sea-sickness)
  • Flexible, patient, and able to follow instructions
  • Ability to swim desirable
  • Experience in skin diving desirable (free-divers highly desired)
  • Experience working abroad, under harsh weather conditions, especially in a tropical country desirable
  • Driver’s license B desirable
  • Experience using an ultrasound or drawing blood from a sea turtle, a nice bonus

Cost of the Program/ Contribution: This is an unpaid volunteer position. Due to limitations in funding successful applicants will have to pay for their flights to Costa Rica, as well as some travel within Costa Rica. Applicants are also expected to cover their personal food and lodging, which should be around US$ 30-45 per day depending on where we will have to spend the night.

Benefits: Successful applicants have the unique chance to acquire field work experience, to be part of top-notch research and to work close hand with charismatic megafauna, are able to learn new techniques relevant to ecology and wildlife management, broaden their personal horizon by working in a foreign country, and improve their soft-skills.


Application Deadlines:   

May 30th, 2017 (for participation from July onwards)

June 30th, 2017 (for participation from August onwards)

Applications will be considered as soon as they come in!


Applicants should send an email (Subject: Volunteer RA Costa Rica) with a letter of interest, a two page resume, and contact information for two relevant references to Christine Figgener (cfiggener@bio.tamu.edu).

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