Volunteer Work, Animal Welfare
year-round, start and end dates are flexible, arrival to project site always between Sunday and Thursday.
Our volunteer project runs an ecological park on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, hosting a sea turtle project, a cayman and iguana breeding project, and a mangrove conservation project. From time to time, the project also cares for other endangered animals, such as exotic birds, land turtles, and more.
Guatemala's Pacific coast stretches 250 kilometers (155 miles) between Mexico and El Salvador and is made up of volcanic plains where some of Guatemala's richest agricultural lands and largest farms lie. Because of this intense agricultural activity, the coastal plain - unlike the Petén region, whose forests have remained relatively healthy - has lost much of its original biodiversity. However, the coastal fringe, including mangrove-lined canals, lagoons and lakes, has remained relatively intact and houses a rich variety of marine and bird life.
The activities of the Ecological Park were originally initiated in 1993 as an attempt to counteract threats to the Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtle populations from overharvesting by local egg collectors. Despite their endangered status, sea turtle nests in Guatemala are harvested and the eggs are sold to restaurants or at markets. Turtle eggs are popular in Guatemala, as in other parts of Central America, as a supposed aphrodisiac.
The project staff collects sea turtle eggs and then reburies them in protected hatcheries. After an incubation period of roughly 50 days, the hatchlings are released into the sea. The park’s hatchery is the most productive of the roughly 14 sea turtle hatcheries in Guatemala. It also carries out research on other endangered reptiles. In an attempt to counteract the effects of unsustainable hunting and habitat loss, the ecological park breeds Spectacled Caymans (crocodiles, caimanus fuscus) and Green Iguanas for release in the mangrove forests.
The mangrove forests, wetlands, and coastal lagoons of the area are one of the last remaining natural areas on the south coast of Guatemala, and they are in urgent need of protection. Staff members also monitor harvesting of mangrove wood and conduct local educational and reforestation campaigns. Together with the Guatemalan government and local communities, the park is working to establish a protected area of over 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) with the goal of conserving the natural resources of the area while at the same time working with local residents regarding sustainable development. The park, furthermore, carries out educational activities, such as lectures on litter, ecology, and endangered species. Interactive events, such as beach clean-ups and baby turtle release "races" are promoted at local schools. The park team operates school hatcheries where students collect, bury, and release their own turtle eggs when they are hatched.
The project in the ecological park in Guatemala is an integrated project that, while attempting to conserve the flora and fauna of the area, also tries to offer local residents economic alternatives to improve the quality of their lives. In addition to the educational activities, the staff organizes health projects (construction of latrines and wells) and offers training regarding the preservation and processing of fish products and eco-tourism. Volunteers may assist with these activities. Volunteers are hosted at the Sea Turtle, Crocodile, and Mangrove Conservation Project near the town of Hawaii (Guatemala, not U.S.), which lies 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the Pacific Coast beach town of Monterrico.
Apart from the above-mentioned tasks, volunteers may help in the following areas:
1. Turtle Conservation (Egg Collection and Hatchery Management)
During the egg-laying season (July - January) volunteers join patrol groups and spend the nights walking the beach in search of nesting turtles. Once the turtle is sighted and "claimed", volunteers wait until it has finished depositing, to collect the eggs, transfer them, and then bury them in the hatchery. Volunteers also receive voluntary donations from local egg collectors and carry them to the hatchery. Once the eggs have been buried in the hatchery, the nest is marked and recorded in a log. Once the eggs hatch (August to January), volunteers assist with releasing the hatchlings. Hatchlings should either be released at night or early or late in the day. They should never be released during the heat of the day as there are more predators and the midday sun will dehydrate them. Basic research in turtle biology is also conducted, including measuring nest and sand temperatures, conducting nightly crawl counts, and monitoring and recording hatchling success rates, which is generally over 90%. Volunteers take part in these research activities. Any other research ideas you may have are welcomed and appreciated.
The Ecological Park plans to expand its activities as a center of conservation in the south coast region of Guatemala. Volunteers assist with the construction of additional turtle hatcheries, including hatcheries in nearby schools, and constructing volunteer and research facilities at the park.
3. Mangrove Reforestation
The mangrove forests lining the Chiquimulilla Canal are under constant threat by illegal loggers and fires caused by the cleaning of pasture for cattle. Volunteers assist with mangrove reforestation activities carried out in conjunction with local schools and conservation groups.
4. Cayman and Iguana Breeding
Crocodiles and other animals were once abundant in the south coast but are rapidly disappearing due to hunting and loss of habitat. Crocodiles and iguanas are bred in captivity on the grounds of the park and offspring are released into the nearby mangrove forests. Volunteers assist with feeding and caring for the breeding of caymans and iguanas.
5. Community Projects
Successful sea turtle conservation efforts in other parts of the world have shown the need to work closely with local communities. This is especially true in a country like Guatemala, where the resources and the will of the authorities are lacking to impose more stringent conservation measures.
Although the turtle egg-laying and hatching season is from July to January (main season August to October), the most active time at the center, volunteers are needed at all times. Mangrove reforestation activities are carried out from December to February. For those interested in environmental education, the Guatemalan school year runs from January to November.
Note: The tasks may vary. They depend on factors such as number of volunteers, season, current needs of the project, as well as self-motivation. Not every volunteer may be fully involved in all these tasks.
We would like to point out that nature is unpredictable, and we cannot guarantee the number of sea turtles for a certain period of participation.
The Ecological Park includes a large central ranch house with a kitchen, office/library, second-story dormitory; a large, open common area with hammocks and tables, toilets and showers.
There is also a small visitor's house where volunteers are welcome to sleep. Nearby are the crocodile and iguana reproduction pens and a water well. 63 meters (200 feet) away, just behind the coastal dunes, is the main turtle hatchery, holding tanks, and a lookout tower. There are 110V electrical outlets available.
Accommodations are rustic but comfortable, and with the ocean breeze and roar of the surf in the distance, they make for an ideal atmosphere to relieve the stress of modern life. The volunteer lodging includes a bed, shower, toilet, lockers, and kitchen. The dormitory is screened, but some volunteers hang mosquito nets as an added precaution. Living in the volunteer house includes food. There is Internet service, shops, and restaurants in Monterrico, which is located 10 minutes away by bus.
Note: In Latin America, especially in remote areas where many of our volunteer projects take place, the cellular or internet connection is not always reliable and fast.
The park’s base for activities on the south coast is a 3-hectare (7 acres) park on the beach, 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) east of the beach town of Monterrico, approximately 3 hours from Guatemala City. Monterrico, is about 10 minutes away by car.
The park is also negotiating with the Guatemalan government to establish a 3,500 hectare (8,600 acres) protected area centered in the mangrove wetlands of the area. The region's ecosystem consists of mangrove-lined estuaries, dry tropical forests, and volcanic sand beaches. Beaches have "high-energy" characteristics like most on the Pacific Coast: relatively steep and narrow, with strong waves and tides, but no reefs.
Monterrico is a seaside resort with tourist infrastructure. It is the center of the nature reserve "Monterrico Nature Reserve", which is known for its black volcanic sand beaches and the annual influx of sea turtles.
Monterrico is also the largest tourist recreation center for the inhabitants of the capital. The city is also becoming increasingly popular with foreign tourists, mainly due to efforts to protect local sea turtles and the relaxed atmosphere in the area.
The climate at the project site is pleasant all year round, with an average daytime temperature of 25 °C, at night it is a bit cooler. The subtropical climate regularly causes rainfall, with the rainiest months being June to September.
In our Wildlife & Nature projects, our volunteers get along well with English language skills.
For optimal program preparation and cultural integration in the destination country, we recommend participating in a Spanish course in Guatemala (optional).
Pre-departure and in-country support
Before arrival, our experienced team will be at your disposal to assist you throughout the booking process and travel planning. With the booking confirmation you will receive our 24-hour emergency number, so that you can reach us 24/7 in case of emergency.
In addition to the assistance given by our office staff you will be supported by our partner organization in Guatemala.
Costs & Services
Our volunteer project in Sea Turtle Conservation in Guatemala includes:
- Shared accommodation in Volunteer House
- Full board
- Professional English-speaking advice
- Translation of your application documents
- Volunteer Work Placement in Guatemala
- English-speaking in-country support
- Handbook Guatemala
- Intercultural guideline
- 24/7 emergency number
- Information about suitable travel health insurance
- Certificate of participation
Application fee: US$ 150
Program fee: US$ 650 (minimum stay 2 weeks)
Each additional week: US$ 195
Additionally, you can book:
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