Samantha participated in our Biological Research Project for 1 month in July – August of 2016.
This is her write up about her experiences:
“It’s been about 2 and a half weeks since I got to Costa Rica, and I’m already dreading going home in just 11 days! I chose to take part in the projects at the Biological Research Center (Reserva Playa Tortuga) in Ojochal, Costa Rica. Ojochal is just a small town on the Pacific coast but me and the friends I made have definitely found plenty of things to do with our free time.
Most of the work that we’ve done has either been done early in the morning or late at night so we get most afternoons off to do whatever we’d like. I’ve gotten to do so much so far and have had an opportunity to work on all of the projects currently going on at the reserve. A few mornings have been spent working in the butterfly garden. We have one separate building where all the butterflies can fly around and every few days we go in there and change their bananas and sugar water. We currently have one cocoon too. We gathered all the caterpillars from the butterfly garden to move to the caterpillar lab and we found 383 of them!!! They’ll all live together with about 50 of them in each cage filled with some leaves. One morning I even had the chance to travel to one of the local schools! The school was celebrating English Day so me and one other volunteer came in to help out with a spelling bee and an impromptu speech. I got to play the part of the judge and read the english words to the kids. It was so cute and such a great experience to be able to help the kids with their english!
I think my favorite project that I’ve helped out with was the Caiman and Crocodile monitoring. A bunch of us went out on a boat through the Terraba River to look for caiman and crocs. We recorded data on how many were found and tried to estimate some of the sizes of them. We were able to catch some of the smaller ones to get a ton of measurements from them which was super cool! I never thought I’d have the opportunity to hold a baby crocodile and be able to take the measurements instead of just watching someone else do it. Of course we all took turns taking photos holding the baby crocs because we were all amazed at what we were doing! Once we spotted one, we turned off the boat and we all had to be super quiet to not scare them which was pretty hard.
The mammal monitoring has also been a project that I really enjoy helping out with. We set up camera throughout the forest on the reserve to get footage of the wildlife in the area. The cameras are motion-activated so every time something goes by, it sets off the camera. So far we have been able to get footage of many agoutis, different types of raccoons, a few birds, and a few others. There have been sightings of an Ocelot in the area although it hasn’t been detected on the cameras in awhile. It’s always so fun bringing in the SD cards from the cameras and putting them in the computer to check to see what types of wildlife have been in the area since we last checked.
The turtle conservation project was the main reason I decided to come out to Costa Rica! Here at Playa Tortuga the main turtle nesting months are August-October. August is only just starting so we only have three turtle nests so far. I haven’t had the chance to see one or help transport the eggs to our hatchery but that’s my main goal before I leave!!! I’ve been going out on patrol for three hours every night and even sleeping at the hatchery some nights to help increase my chances. When I first got here, we needed to help build the hatchery which wasn’t too bad. We have one tent for volunteers/interns to sleep in and another for the patrol men to sleep. They’ve all been so nice to me even though some of them barely speak any English and my Spanish isn’t too great. They’ve managed to teach me about some of the local animals, teach me new Spanish words, cut open a few coconuts for me, make me coffee during a 2am patrol when I’m half asleep, and show me a new delicious fruit that you can find all over the ground near/on the beach (mamon chino).
We get one day off every week (Sunday) and also have some afternoons off too. I went zip lining through the rainforest my first weekend here and that was absolutely unbelievable! The views were breathtaking as I zip lined through the trees, high up in a mountain. The trip ended with a Tarzan swing that looked out over the mountain that was like nothing like I’ve ever seen before. I’ve also been to quite a few of the waterfalls in the area. One of them even has a rope you can climb up which was so much fun! I went to one of the waterfalls yesterday on our way back from bird watching and I even got to see some howler monkeys there!! I’ve seen so many Capuchin monkeys since I’ve gotten here, which have obviously been really cute, but I was really looking forward to seeing a howler monkey. I also went to Dominical on one of my days off. They have so many great shops to buy souvenirs in. I bought the cutest pair of shorts that I am absolutely in love with as well as a figurine that a local man made from different seeds and things he found in the rainforest. I’m hoping I can find time to go back because they had so many great restaurants there and I would like to check out a few before I have to go back home and I’d also like to buy one of the hammocks if I can make the room in my suitcase!! Even if I don’t feel like taking a bus or taxi out to town or going on a long walk, the beach at the reserve is fun too! I’ve had so many afternoons where I just brought a book down to the beach and laid out. Plus, there’s a cave you can swim/wade out to that is filled with hundreds of bats. I’ve never seen so many bats in one place!
Costa Rica has definitely started to feel like a second home!! I hate that I’m leaving in a little over a week. I’ve made friends from all over the world (I’ve actually been the only one from the U.S. since I got here) and it’s all thanks to this month away from home! When I initially arrived here I was kind of nervous being here without knowing anymore but now I can’t wait for my next trip abroad. Definitely going to come back and visit everyone once I learn a bit more Spanish!!! :P”