Are you thinking about volunteering with sea turtles? Whether you’re keen to help save Leatherbacks in the Caribbean or rescue Loggerheads in Australia, there’s lots of ways you can get involved with the global effort to preserve our sea turtle population.
But before you commit to volunteering with sea turtles, there’s some important things you should know.
There are seven species of sea turtles and nearly all of them are endangered. Volunteering with sea turtles mainly focuses on the Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback and Olive Ridley species. Depending on where in the world you volunteer, you might be working with the giant Leatherbacks or tiny Olive Ridley sea turtles; there’s some fantastic Leatherback volunteering opportunities in Trinidad and Tobago and if you want to save Olive Ridelys, head to Costa Rica or the Indian Ocean.
The large bulk of volunteer work, especially when turtles are nesting, takes place between 11pm and 4am. Why? Because that’s when the turtles travel onto the beach to lay their eggs.
Typical volunteering involves tagging the sea turtles, checking for any ailments and ensuring that they can access the beach. Sea turtles return to the beach that they are born to lay their eggs; which makes them a predictable species, but also one that is greatly affected by the destruction and alteration of beaches.
If your duties include helping the sea turtles during the egg laying period, then you’ll have to alter your sleeping schedule somewhat. Don’t expect to be getting lovely long lay ins or early nights when you’re volunteering with sea turtles!
Think volunteering with sea turtles is all about aww-ing at the baby creatures? Well, some of it is, but definitely not all. There’s a lot of hard work involved when volunteering with sea turtles. You are responsible for checking the turtles for any impediments, freeing them from potentially dangerous objects that could be damaging them, and making sure that they have access to the beach. Volunteering with sea turtles is both mentally and emotionally taxing, so be sure that you’re ready for it before you go.
Sea turtles favour exotic destinations, with popular spots being Costa Rica, Mexico, the Seychelles or Northern Australia. This means that while you volunteer to help save the breed, you’ll have the chance to bask on stunning beaches and soak up rays of sun. While sea turtle conservation definitely isn’t a holiday, there’s a lot worse places to do work than on the shores of Matura Beach in Trinidad!
Nobody’s exactly sure how turtles manage this, but in order to lay their eggs, they return to the same beach that they were born on. This means that preserving the natural environment of beaches is extremely important; because otherwise, sea turtles will return to the same beach and will be unable to lay their eggs. Human interruption of natural beaches does greatly affect the ecosystems of a lot of wildlife, and this is just one example of why it they should be preserved.
Tell anybody that you’re going volunteering with sea turtles, and no doubt you’ll be met with a chorus of ‘awww!’. Sea turtles are definitely beautiful, and can seem cute and cuddly, but they’re not always as precious as they seem on television. Some sea turtles have a serious odour; make sure you’re ready for the stink of a crowd of them on your first night volunteering!
If you’re volunteering during the hatching season, be prepared to feel a bit emotional as many of the sea turtles that hatch during this period do not survive. Their population has rapidly declined in the last 100 years due to human demand for their meat and body parts, as well as threat to their natural environment. This means that only a tiny percentage of turtles make it to adulthood; but by volunteering to conserve the species, you could be contributing to making that percentage a lot higher.
Whenever you’re starting a new volunteering project, it’s good to know why you’re doing it in the first place. Despite only 1 in 1000 sea turtles surviving until adulthood, there’s nowadays even more threats facing our shelled friends.
Garbage left on beaches and tossed into the sea is significantly affecting their lives and habitats. A lot of sea turtles are mistaking plastics in the ocean for their food (plastic bags can resemble jellyfish!) and eating it, which means blockages in their digestive system and eventually can result in death.
While volunteering normally involves tagging sea turtles, making sure they have access to the beach and monitoring hatchlings, it can also consist of educating the local community about the dangers that sea turtles face and the ways that they can be conserved in the local area; like making efforts to clean up the beach to stop plastics or other debris finding their way into the oceans and hence, into turtles’ digestive systems.
Sea turtles greatly benefit two ecosystems; the coastal and the marine system. Nutrients from sea turtles unhatched eggs give sand dunes vital nutrients which enables vegetation and root growth on dunes which increases the strength of the whole ecosystem. Sea turtles also work towards the strength of the marine system by eating sea grass, which needs to be short and healthy so it can spread across the ocean floor. They help keep the sea grass healthy, which is vital for a lot of marine species. Without sea turtles, a lot of these species would cease to exist and the entire ecosystem would topple.
Ready to volunteer with sea turtles? Check out some opportunities here!
Guest post written by Antoine from Traveling Life www.travelinglife.com
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