Volunteer Field Assistants

Costa Rican Alliance for Sea Turtle Conservation & Science (COASTS)
Published
November 23, 2020
Location
Southern Caribbean, Costa Rica
Closing date
15th March 2021

Description

We are seeking volunteer field research assistants (RAs) for the 2021 field season of our sea turtle conservation and research project on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Our study site is the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge (REGAMA) in the very South of Costa Rica. The sea turtle nesting habitat within REGAMA encompasses 9.8 km of beach adjacent to the small village of Gandoca and several smaller playitas between Gandoca and the community of Manzanillo. REGAMA also harbours coral reefs and seagrass beds, which are popular feeding sites for hawksbills and greens of different life stages. Our project is studying the three resident sea turtle species that are using REGAMA for feeding and nesting: hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), and less frequently green turtles (Chelonia mydas).

The work:

From March until October each year, our project is conducting nightly patrols (rain or shine) to encounter nesting females (primarily leatherbacks and hawksbills) and study the nesting populations and to protect the females and their eggs from illegal harvesting. During some month of the season (usually April, May, September, and October, depending on weather and ocean conditions) we also conduct in-water surveys to study the populations of feeding turtles in REGAMA.

Our work is a mix of conservation measures and scientific data collection. We mark all individuals to estimate population size, we collect different types of data on the morphology and growth-rate of individuals, we record the reproductive output of females, and we estimate the hatching success of nests and the numbers of hatchlings produced. We further collect samples to conduct diet studies using stable isotope analysis, and we attach a small number of satellite transmitters each year to study the habitat use of our turtles.

RA positions:

We are seeking RAs that help with any of the accruing tasks throughout the field season. The work schedule will be very dynamicand will be structured as demanded by the workload, but usually includes nightly patrols seven nights out of the weeks with five nights off per month. This means long hours, little sleep, no weekends, no holidays, no fixed finishing times, and no predictable days off.

Each successful applicant will receive a training on-site on the incurring tasks. Some work will be during the day (e.g. preparing and cleaning equipment, transferring data, or boat surveys with in-water work hand-capturing sea turtles to collect data). Major parts will be at night, searching for nesting females. Ultimately, we are expecting our RAs to be dependable assistants that help with any of our daily tasks and the ongoing research and being able to solve problems independently and proactively.

Our RAs will live in a locally run cabina in Gandoca in shared quarters, and the local host will prepare three daily meals. Successful applicants are part of a small research team, and will spend much time with the other team members, due to long working hours, and shared quarters. Some field staff might only speak Spanish, and the research team will be a mix of different nationalities and cultures.

Our expectations :

A dedication to a positive and respectful working environment is crucial. We are seeking highly enthusiastic individuals that understand the importance of our work, and that are willing to complete the job meticulously and with dedication. We need our assistants to pull their weight and be ready to pitch in and carry more if another team member is unable to. Successful applicants will be flexible individuals that can focus on a variety of tasks (nightly patrols, in-water water work, data collection, handling animals, handling equipment, data entry, equipment maintenance, helping clean our workspace, etc.).

Large parts of our work encompass walking for long distances in soft sand at night without light, climbing steep and muddy trails, restraining animals for several hours, and catching turtles by hand in the water. The climate is very warm and humid with frequent rain at any hour of the day. Thus, for the work as RA, adequate physical fitness is a requirement and also, being comfortable on a beach at night in potentially harsh weather, as well as on a boat and in the water. Precautions should be taken to avoid diseases by consulting an MD specialized in travel to tropical countries and following his instructions before arriving in the project: e.g. ensure that you have the proper vaccinations, mosquito repellent, field first aid kit, which are the responsibility of the successful applicant.

Requirements:

  • 18+ years old
  • Student or a recent graduate in biology, wildlife management, ecology, marine biology, or similar or have relevant field experience etc.
  • Willingness to sign an indemnification/waiver (!)
  • Travel Health Insurance that covers Covid-19 related expenses
  • Willingness to either self-isolate for 14 days in Costa Rica before arriving at the project site or the presentation of a negative Covid-19 test before arrival
  • Excellent physical fitness and ability to walk long distances in soft sand and steep terrain
  • Being comfortable living in remote, shared, and rustic conditions (no AC, no internet, only cold showers, shared rooms, next major hospital several hours away)
  • Professional demeanour
  • Positive and upbeat personality, even in the face of severe sleep deprivation
  • Ability to carry 50 pounds, and restrain a 90-pound animal for several hours
  • Fluency in English or Spanish required, a basic level of Spanish desirable, but not a requirement
  • Previous experience conducting fieldwork desirable
  • Experience working abroad, under harsh weather conditions, especially in a tropical country desirable
  • Ability to swim
  • Experience in skin diving desirable (free-divers highly desired)
  • Not prone to sea-sickness (or way of avoiding sea-sickness)
  • Flexible, patient, and able to follow instructions

Cost of the Program/ Contribution:

The position is voluntary, and no salaries or stipends are paid. Because of limited available funds, RAs will be expected to pay US$15/day for their room and board in a locally run cabina. This fee covers the cost of three daily meals, water, internet, and electricity for the duration of their stay.

Each RA will be responsible for their own travel expenses to and from the project site in Costa Rica, and taxis and public buses, including flights into the country and any international travel costs. The RA is also expected to cover any other expenses outside of the project like extra food and transportation not pertinent to the project work.

Benefits of working with us:

Working as an RA for us is a unique opportunity to gain valuable field experience and knowledge relevant to the conservation, research, and management of endangered marine species (or expand on existing experience):

  • Learn and practice sea turtle research and conservation methodologies and general field biology skills with our experienced team;
  • Practical training in data collection and handling of endangered wildlife;
  • Access to staff and biologists for gaining insight into professional conservation work;
  • Opportunity to learn or improve your Spanish language or your English skills with the local staff and international RAs.

Dates:

Team 2: May 20th – August 20th 2021 (leatherback season and hawksbill season)

Team 3: August 1st – October 30th 2021 (hawksbill season)

Application Deadline: March 15th, 2021 (Team 2)

Interested applicants should send a letter of interest, a two-page resume, and contact information for two relevant references to Christine Figgener (christine.figgener@yahoo.de). Subject line: RA Costa Rica

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