In July 2018, I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula doing a conservation project run by Frontier. Volunteers were provided with the opportunity to attend trails surveying primates, turtles, big cats, neo-tropical river otters, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, collecting data with a view towards eventually determining the diversity and distribution of the area. There was additionally the opportunity to assist students with conducting research for their dissertations, examining the habitat in which species such as poison dart frogs or Brazilian Wandering spiders are found.
I chose to dedicate my time primarily to the conservation of turtles, recording the coordinates of new nests, excavating hatched nests to monitor reproductive success, constructing and using bamboo cages to protect nests from predation, and tagging turtles laying their eggs on the beach. I was even able to take part in the establishment of an innovative new survey entitled ‘Spicy Turtles’, which involved sprinkling cayenne pepper around unhatched nests to discourage predation from dogs.
In addition to the various activities available on camp, there were several day trips with different companies which Frontier facilitated. These included the opportunity to assist the residents of Puerto Jimenez with their recycling efforts, a guided tour of Corcovado National Park, a boat tour around the Golfo Dulce to observe dolphins and humpback whales, kayaking, horse-back riding, and visits to a wildlife sanctuary. When not partaking in surveys or attending day trips, the volunteers relax by playing board games, competing in games of beach volleyball, or cooking.
Overall, my time spent in Costa Rica was immensely rewarding and humbling. The commitment of the local community in Puerto Jimenez to the responsible disposal of their plastic and other waste has inspired me to educate myself about the recycling system back in England and to minimise my use of plastic. In fact, my experience assisting the recycling efforts in Puerto Jimenez influenced my decision to motion the Junior Common Room at my university to eliminate the use of plastic cups in the dining hall, an endeavour which proved successful. As expected, the experience was hugely educative regarding the need to conserve certain species, informing me of the factors threatening them and the methods of combatting such threats. One method was the construction of bamboo cages in order to protect turtle nests from predation, which involved the process of chopping bamboo with machetes, transporting the stalks to hatcheries, and weaving the cages together.
The strenuousness of the task taught me perseverance and the enthusiasm with which the other volunteers carried out the work was inspiring, demonstrating their commitment to conservation efforts, the lengths to which they would go in order to exact progress. However, the trip also taught me the need to fight for conservation against those who attempt to compromise your efforts. Late one evening, a group of volunteers and I were carrying out a survey, monitoring the progress of an Olive Ridley turtle which was laying eggs and recording the coordinates of the nest, when there appeared a local man accompanied by a loud group of paying tourists. The local was carrying a bright torch, forbidden by Frontier because they frighten the turtles. We confronted the group, informing them that the light and noise would scare the turtle. However, it was too late: the turtle had been forced out of its trance and was beginning to return to the sea.
This experience was significant in revealing to me how not everyone is respectful of conservation efforts, and that people may even work directly against them, serving to reinforce the importance of the work Frontier does. Moreover, the instance also informed me of the importance of raising awareness about conservation practices, since it was evident that the group of tourists were unconscious of their mistake. On a basic level, my experience of living on the camp in Costa Rica also taught me organisational skills and how best to manage stress as I was tasked with catering for thirty odd people with limited ingredients and resources.
From the outset Frontier were extraordinarily helpful and supportive. Even before my departure, the London staff ensured I was well prepared for the journey, providing me with field briefs and checklists, and answering any queries I had promptly. The field staff were equally impressive. The Principle Investigator herself kindly travelled to Puerto Jimenez in order to meet the new group of volunteers and guide them to the camp, located on the opposite side of the Osa Peninsula. The days were well-structured, beginning with informative and engaging staff-led presentations designed to educate the volunteers about the necessity of conserving species.
These presentations were crucial in ensuring that we fully understood the cause, instilling us with enthusiasm for the protection of these species. As well as leading surveys in a professional and instructive manner, the staff additionally encouraged volunteers to exercise their autonomy, offering them the opportunity to lead surveys, conduct their own research projects (such as ‘Spicy Turtles’), and even earn BTEC and CoPE qualifications. Therefore, through Frontier’s diligent assistance, informative presentations, and survey leadership, the organisation has educated me and other volunteers about the necessity of conservation and inspired us to be independent and to adopt environmental and sustainable practices in our day-to-day lives.