Despite its small size, this tiny Central American nation is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely as a result of its varied topography and its geographical position at a biological crossroads between South and North America.
Costa Rica has an impressive commitment to conservation, with strong public support for environmental sustainability, partly as a result of the enormous positive impact that ecotourism has had on the economy. The combination of beautiful beaches, pristine rain forests, emblematic species such as quetzals, howler monkeys, jaguars and tapirs, and an impressive network of protected areas, makes Costa Rica an irresistible ecotourism destination.
Earthwatch provides an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity to discover Costa Rica, working alongside scientists and contributing to the conservation of the country's endemic wildlife.
Coffee is one of the world's most important crops, with more than 100 million people worldwide dependent upon it for their income. It is therefore essential that research is carried out into sustainable production techniques. This project allows Earthwatch volunteers to learn about and play a key role in research into sustainable coffee production that benefits both the coffee producers and local wildlife.
The project takes place at the base of the superlative Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, renowned as one of the most outstanding tropical wildlife refuges in the Americas, home to more than 400 species of birds and 100 species of mammals, and featuring canopy walks and zip lines through pristine cloud forest. The research takes place in the most species-rich coffee plantations in the country, where the farmers have received a grant stipulating that all production methods must be in harmony with the environment.
Lead scientist Dr. Valerie Peters is focusing her research on the importance of various plantation shade trees on biodiversity, with an emphasis on birds and bees. Animal pollinators are essential factors in the reproduction of one third of all human crops, and the presence of social bees has been demonstrated to increase coffee yields by an impressive 50 per cent. Bee populations are in severe decline around the world and so research into habitat requirements of pollinator species associated with crops is essential to stabilising yields.
Volunteers carry out a number of tasks including bird surveys, surveys on visitations by bees to the coffee flowers, and collecting nectar samples from flowers. They stay in small cabins or bungalows at the San Luis eco-lodge.
Costa Rica for teenagers: Costa Rica's Monkeys is also available as a dedicated teen team for 16-17 year olds only. Teenagers may be accommodated on Costa Rica's Sustainable Coffee if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Playa Grande in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, is not only one of the best places in the world to find endangered leatherback turtles - it's also a stunningly beautiful place.
The beach, along with Playa Langosta and Playa Ventanas, the neighbouring turtle nesting beaches, is located in the Las Baulas National Park on the northwest coast of the country. Earthwatch volunteers have been patrolling these beaches since 1993 and the research has been instrumental in establishing the park. The lead scientists on Costa Rican Sea Turtles, Frank Paladino and James Spotila, are members of the governmental committees setting up the management plan for the park.
The project aims to gain a better understanding of the nesting and population biology of the leatherback turtle within the park. Research documents factors such as where the turtles nest, how often they return each season, and how many of the eggs laid actually hatch. The leatherback, the giant among the world's seven turtle species, is critically endangered. Feeding on jellyfish and other soft-bodied animals, it faces threats from fishing, particularly long line fishing, pollution, and development on nesting beaches. At Playa Grande a major threat to the turtles has been poaching, and nesting numbers declined precipitously in the 1990s. These days poaching has been drastically reduced and the beaches are patrolled by park rangers.
Volunteers work alongside researchers conducting a variety of tasks, depending on the team. Each night they patrol the beaches to monitor nesting leatherbacks, record data such as nest position, and relocate nests to a hatchery; or they could be determining hatchling success rates and protecting the tiny hatchlings as they make their way towards the sea.
Playa Grande itself is a breathtaking location. During time off volunteers can enjoy presentations from researchers, go on a boat tour around a mangrove estuary, or visit the nearby small town of Tamarindo. Volunteers stay in a comfortable house with pool at the Goldring Marine Biology Field Station, just a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean.
For more information about these three projects, call Earthwatch's expedition recruitment team on +44 (0)1865 318831/email email@example.com
Costa Rica Fact File
Capital city: San Jose
Area: 51,100 km2
Languages: Spanish and English
Currency: Costa Rican colon
Climate: Tropical and subtropical in coastal areas; milder in central highlands
Did you know?
New world monkeys are characterised by their prehensile (grasping) tails, which they use as a fifth limb. The hairless pad on the under side of the tail features tiny lines that help to increase the tail's grip. These lines, known as dermatoglyphics (from the Greek for 'skin carving'), occur in patterns unique to each individual, just like human finger prints.