ARCAE’s Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer at the Punta Banco Project (PBP)—the longest running olive ridley sea turtle project in the world!!
The olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) nesting beach project in Punta Banco, Costa Rica was started in 1997 by the Pretoma organization and is the longest continuously monitored olive ridley nesting beach conservation initiative in the world.  Because olive ridley sea turtles take an estimated 15 years to reach sexual maturity, it is expected that over the next few years the first hatchlings released in the late ‘90s will begin making their way back to the very same beach they were born on. 

You can be an important part of this incredible cycle of life!! 

Today the ARCAE association manages the PBP and offers YEAR ROUND volunteer opportunities.  The olive ridley project runs from July 15-December 15 and a new green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) project runs from January-June.  January-June also offer volunteers the chance to participate in weekly boat trips with local fishermen to perform a visual marine fauna survey of the area’s near coastal areas.  ARCAE also organizes volunteer participation in beach clean-ups and children’s educational projects all year long.

Project Site
Punta Banco is a small village of 200 residents located on Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific coast, 400 km south of San José, the country’s capital city.  Nestled between stretches of virgin rain forest, uninhabited beaches, and the indigenous Guaymi Indian reservation, Punta Banco is a hidden gem of both natural and cultural beauty. For more location details, see area map below.

It’s a place where waterfalls plunge out of the mountains onto the beach, where cool rivers empty into the sea, and where monkeys, scarlet macaws, sloths, green iguanas, and multiple species of sea turtles can all be seen. 

A few other leisure activities that volunteers find appealing include exploring tide pools, walking on impressive rainforest trails, horseback riding, surfing, and simply hanging out in a hammock.

Punta Banco has a school, a church, a new children’s library and computer lab, and some wooden houses that surround a soccer field.  It also has two small mini-marts (“pulperias”) and three simple restaurants (“sodas”), as well as potable water, electricity, a handful of television sets, recently installed telephones, and even internet service! (Sorry, no cell phones yet).

The project offers four different housing options.  The following prices are weekly and include 3 meals/day.  They do not include ground transportation in Costa Rica to the project site:

–Field station: rustic individual rooms with shared bathrooms and cold water showers: $375

–Private rooms/cabins with cold water showers: $425

–Private houses with hot showers, kitchens, AC: $525

–The Tiskita lodge  located on a hill above the town: TBD

Long-term and group rates can be negotiated as well as packages for students interested in doing field research internships.  Also, those interested in volunteering as field coordinators are encouraged to contact the project’s managers for more information. 

The Community Project
Many volunteers are looking to have an even bigger impact in the community.  Because of this, in 2012 the PBP will offer:
–English instruction to local children aimed at improving their prospects of pursuing higher education, new opportunities, and cultural exchanges
–Help with the new children’s library and computer lab (book and used computer donations welcome)
–Activities related to environmental education
–Once a week on-the-water marine fauna visual surveys with local fishermen from January through May 

The Team
The 2012 PBP is managed by the ARCAE association’s cofounders Andy Bystrom (biologist-USA and Ingrid Rojas (educational psychologist-Costa Rica  The non-profit organization ARCAE (Costa Rican Environmental and Educational Network) is dedicated to marine conservation and rural education in southern Costa Rica.  ARCAE is a partner organization of Pretoma, the non-profit that previously managed the project.  Both are looking forward to the season and to implementing more volunteer activities and opportunities.  Please feel free to contact them.

Local community members will also assist with night patrols and data collection. Locals and volunteers working together provide sufficient personnel to patrol the beach and ensure protection for the greatest number of nests possible.

Volunteers come from all over the world and stay in Punta Banco anywhere from one week to five months. We recommend, at the very least, a multiple week stay to really get to know the project and community members.

A day in the life
Turtles lay their nests on the beach after dark, and thus much of the project’s work is done during 3-6 hour shifts at night.  Volunteers pair up and walk the 4km stretch of Punta Banco beach searching for nesting turtles.  When a turtle is found, it is tagged, measured, and the newly laid eggs are transferred to the town’s hatchery where they are reburied and monitored until they hatch.  When the eggs hatch, hatching rates are recorded and the baby turtles are released into the sea. Aside from working directly with turtles, it is possible to teach English to eager youngsters (and adults) at the local school house and librabt, as well as educate interested locals (and expats living in the area) about turtles and the protection program.  Community support and involvement is integral to the success of the program.  During free time you can experience the local environment: long deserted beaches, jungle trails leading to waterfalls and natural pools, and of course the friendly Punta Banconians who are always willing to help you polish up on your Spanish or give a surfing lesson. Also, the town is built around a beach-front football/soccer field and volunteers can participate in afternoon futball matches or kick a ball around with the locals as the sun is going down.

Typical fare includes: rice, beans, tortillas, salads, chicken, fish, pork, beef, tacos, potatoes, pastas, soups, pancakes, cereals, breads, milk, sandwiches, locally-made cheese, peanut butter, plus lots of fresh fruits and veggies and fresh-squeezed juices.

Vegetarians should have no problems with the diet in Punta Banco.  Those who follow a vegan diet should note that tofu is not readily available in Costa Rica, especially in Punta Banco.  Soy milk powder can be purchased in Pavones, and this, along with rice and beans, and peanut butter, are the only available rich sources of protein for the vegan volunteer.


Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (including Punta Banco) experiences a rainy season (May-November) and a dry season (December-April).  During the rainy season, it usually rains at least once each day, if even just for 10 minutes, as this is a rain forest.  Heavy downpours can also be expected, often at night while volunteers are on beach patrol.  The dry season is just that—dry and sunny.  Year-round daytime temperatures range from the mid-70′s when overcast to low-90′s when the sun is out.  The weather can change very rapidly.  Rain storms can pop up out of nowhere and disappear as suddenly as they arrived.  Humidity is very high and cotton clothes should be avoided because they never dry completely.

Health and Welfare
Punta Banco is off the beaten path and a reliable hospital is an hour and a half drive away.  Volunteers are advised to bring a well stocked first-aid kit, and medical insurance is the responsibility of the participant. Many people arrange to get traveler’s insurance.
Please email Andy and Ingrid with your questions and comments.

Area Map

One Response to “ARCAE’s Volunteer Opportunities”
  1. Hello,

    Please contact me in regards to future projects. International Costa Rican Concierge would be very much interested in investing both time and financial assets in your projects.

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