GVI’s research station in Jalova is found in the stunning Tortuguero National Park, surrounded on three sides by protected rainforest and on the other by the Caribbean Sea and a beach that is home to one of the largest nesting colonies of Green Turtles in the world. Spend your time surrounded by the breathtaking scenery and wildlife of the rich canals, tropical rainforest and Caribbean beaches. There is no road access to this location, so all transportation is via canoe and motor boat, through the stunning canal and river system surrounded by tropical rainforest and wildlife.
HomeProgramsWildlife Photography and Conservation Awareness in Costa Rica
Gain a new perspective on conservation through the lens of your camera in biodiverse Costa Rica. Learn how wildlife photography can be used for the purpose of conservation while contributing to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #15, Life on Land.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Contribute specifically to these United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Develop your wildlife photography skills in a Costa Rican jungle environment. Gain an in-depth understanding into the ecology and unique species, like jaguars and green sea turtles, that call Tortuguero National Park home while contributing to their preservation. Take note of bird, reptile and amphibian species, among others, while on a forest trail hike or while canoeing down the many canals in this protected area. All conservation work is done at the invitation and in partnership with leading local and international conservation organisations like the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), Panthera, Coastal Jaguar Conservation, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Develop your wildlife photography skills in a living, transformative environment.
Contribute to conservation efforts in a Costa Rican national park in an area not open to tourists.
Gain an understanding of a unique coastal rainforest ecosystem in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Learning more about bird species, sea turtles, monkeys, reptiles, and amphibians.
Visit an incredibly jaguar-dense area and one of the only locations in the world where jaguars are known to prey on adult sea turtles.
Gaining practical conservation research experience.
Explore nearby parks and take part in adventure activities during your free time.
Make new friends from all over the world who share your passion for conservation.
Cancel anytime and receive a full refund minus your deposit.
Life On Base
Our base in Tortuguero National Park is the perfect way to unplug and get in touch with the natural environment. It is located in the heart of the jungle on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, an hour’s boat ride from the nearest small town. Field work includes walking the the protected beaches looking for signs of turtles and jaguars, traveling on canoe through the foliage-draped canals spotting aquatic bird species, and, if you are lucky, a manatee in the water below, or trekking through the jungle spotting and noting everything from howler monkeys, sloths, tamanduas anteaters, and toucans. Don’t forget to pack your camera. Some patrols are conducted in the morning or at night, which means you could experience spectacular sunsets and sunrises over the Caribbean sea. In your free time, relax at our small camping-style base, which is solar-powered and designed to have as minimal an impact on the natural environment as possible. We are much like a big family on base, and share cooking and tidying duties. Get to know GVI staff and team members from all around the world who share the same interest in wildlife and passion for conservation as you.
24-hour in-country support
Data capturing setup
Forest side living
Meals while on project
Sleeping areas are dorm-style and bathrooms are shared.
For project work you will only need your feet, a good pair of rubber boots, some thick socks, and dark-coloured, long-sleeve, lightweight clothing. Boats are available for canal bird surveys. Long weekend trips away from base will generally happen once a month from the park, so be sure to make your plans with this in mind.
Our research base is far from civilisation, which means that phone signal is limited. You might have the opportunity to visit the Tortuguero town two or three times during your visit, where you can make use of several internet cafes, as the WIFI on base is used strictly for research purposes by staff.
Many of our ingredients are brought in from Tortuguero town, but are supplemented by fruit and vegetables grown in our own organic garden. Breakfast consist of fruits, porridge, and pancakes on Saturdays, and lunches and dinners features a variety of vegetarian cuisine from pastas to stir frys.
Costa Rica is a wonderfully tropical country, with a climate ranging from warm and rainy to hot and humid. The driest months are August to December when the temperature averages around 29°C or 84°F. It is cooler and more rainy from January to July when temperatures drop to about 20°C or 68°F.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place. Learn more.
Health and Hygiene
For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.
The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.
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Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic – including destination ratings, flight bookings, and tests.
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
Follow GVI Jalova's Facebook page for live updates straight from the field. Get an idea of the types of projects you might be involved in, meet our staff and participants, experience life on this GVI base, hear about free time activities, and learn about the local culture and environment.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Please note that the above images were taken pre COVID-19. All airport pick-ups and program operations now run with enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place. Learn more.
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Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic – including destination ratings, flight bookings, and tests.
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Tortuguero National Park is a key area for many interlinked conservation efforts. It is a popular nesting area for vulnerable and endangered sea turtles. It is also a natural stronghold for jaguars and the only place where these cats are known to prey on sea turtles. It is also home to several insect, amphibian, reptile, mammal, and bird species identified as important or the health of the local ecosystem, global diversity, and international research by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications or MINAET.
Rainforest Biodiversity Surveys
We assist MINAET with conducting a Biological Assessment Survey or BAS of the four major habitat types around our area of Tortuguero Park. We note a wide range of species on our surveys which are of interest to MINAET including the Rain Frog, Red-eyed Treefrog, two species of Toucan, Baird’s Tapir, Spider Monkey, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-lipped Peccary, Eyelash Palm Pitviper. Staff and participants walk a several marked path in the forest noting sighting, tracks, and vocalisations. Only species identified with 100% certainty can be recorded. The data is sent to MINAET who use a standardised methodology to monitor the condition of each trail over time. This helps them to understand the health of the local environment and whether their current conservation efforts are working.
Sea Turtle Research
We also assist the Sea Turtle Conservancy, or STC, with sea turtle research and protection, by patrolling the Southern end of 18 mile stretch of Tortuguero National Park using internationally recognised protocols during turtle nesting and hatching season, from around March to December each year. The STC patrols the northern stretch.
Tortuguero has played a key part in the conservation of sea turtles worldwide. Archie Carr, the pioneering American conservationist, began his studies of green turtles in Tortuguero in 1954 and since 1958 the STC, has continued work on green turtles, which are currently endangered, and the other turtle species, like the critically endangered hawksbill, and vulnerable leatherback, who frequent this area.
From April to October, a team walks the beach each night looking for nesting sea turtles.
Depending on the time of year, it is possible to do several walks without seeing a turtle, or see multiple ones in one night. When a turtle is encountered, different kinds of research activities might be carried out, depending on what stage of the nesting process she is in from emerging from the sea, selecting a nest site, digging a body pit, and digging her egg chamber to laying her eggs, covering her egg chamber, disguising her nest, or returning back to sea. This might include, checking for distinctive markings to see if she has been to the beach before and make a note for future researchers if she returns, tagging her flippers, measuring her carapace, counting her eggs, marking her nest, or checking for abnormalities in the mother turtle or eggs.
From April to November a team patrols the beach during the day to look for nests that were marked previously to determine whether any of the nests have hatched, been eroded by the sea, been attacked by predators like jaguars, or been poached by humans. This information is used to investigate whether any areas of the beach are more susceptible to nest loss. Depending on the season, we also take note of mother turtle tracks from the previous night.
Between June and December, hatched nests are excavated to determine hatchling success and survival rates, reason for losses in egg development, and determine the actual status of the nests including whether or not they were partially or fully poached.
Throughout the year our teams carry out beach cleans to ensure a good nesting place for mother turtles and an uninterrupted passage for hatchlings to make their way to the sea.
Jaguar Population and Turtle Predation Research
The jaguar is the only member of the Panthera or ‘big cat’ genus found in the the Western Hemisphere. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List has given the jaguar the status of being ‘near threatened’.
Tortuguero is a haven for jaguars, having possibly one of the highest populations in the world. This makes it an excellent location for studying jaguar behaviour. However, it also means there is a great responsibility on park authorities and the Costa Rican government to ensure that threats as a result of human activity like poaching, habitat and food source degradation do not threaten jaguar numbers in Tortuguero. Tortuguero is also one of the only places in the world where jaguars are known to feed on adult sea turtles. There has also been concern that the number of sea turtles preyed upon by jaguars has been increasing.
We assist MINAET with estimating the minimum number of jaguars using the coastal habitat inside Tortuguero National Park, identifying the availability of prey species in the area, noting any changes in jaguar feeding behaviour, and determining whether the predation of marine turtles by jaguars is having an impact on the marine turtle populations. This helps the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies. To improve and expand our research, we collaborate with Panthera and Coastal Jaguar Conservation.
Direct observations of jaguars can be very difficult to achieve because of their elusive nature. Several projects of elusive species worldwide have turned to remote observation techniques in order to estimate population sizes, for species in which individuals are identifiable by markings, or relative abundance, for those species in which individuals are not identifiable. Camera trapping projects have been used to estimate tiger density within national parks in India and ocelot densities in the Pantanal region of South America to name a few. Other projects in Costa Rica such as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network, or TEAM Initiative from Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, Jaguar Project in Corcovado National Park have also had success with camera trapping of jaguars. We started our jaguar camera trap program in 2006 and it has been constantly evolving ever since as new, more effective methodologies continue to be developed.
From February to November, our team walks a 15-mile stretch of the beach starting in the early morning to note jaguar tracks and check on permanent camera traps set up to ID new or known jaguars in the area. Permanent cameras are set up in areas of known jaguar activity in the vegetation lining the beach. A scent station might be included to halt the jaguar in their progress so that a clearer picture of their rosette pattern markings can be taken for use in identification. We also collect jaguar scat or faeces for use in jaguar feeding behaviour and genetic studies.
During turtle nesting season, from March to October, we also monitor the number of sea turtles preyed upon by jaguars. When a predated turtle is found we note the species of turtle, assign an identification number, and check for tags. We also record the time and location, biometric data, and a description of the style of predation. Killcams are set up on predated turtles to witness jaguar behavior as they return to the kill. In addition, data is collected on weather and beach conditions at specific areas.
Aquatic Bird Research
We also monitor 30 aquatic bird species identified by MINAET as important indicators of the ecological health of the National Park as a whole. These include exotic ave species like the neotropic cormorant, the rufescent tiger-heron, the cattle egret, the green ibis, and the amazon kingfisher. Early morning surveys are conducted on canoe along five of Tortuguero’s canals and last approximately 3 hours. Species are identified and specifics such as their sex and breeding behaviour are noted. The aim of this project is to help researchers and governmental authorities understand when and where resident species migrate to. It is generally believed that seasonal migration takes place within Costa Rica but details are lacking. It also helps MINAET with developing an accurate management plan for Tortuguero National Park. In addition, we collect information on all incidental species seen on the canals. Sightings of megafauna like endangered manatees are extremely important to MINAET as they provide evidence towards justifying the boundaries of the National Park and whether to extend them.
As such, the specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal we work on in Tortuguero park is #15, Life On Land.
Our Partners In Jalova
GVI Jalova’s Long-term Objectives:
1. Increase scientific knowledge of Tortuguero National Park.
2. Increase awareness of GVI Jalova projects and the ecological value of the Tortuguero National Park.
3. Build local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica.
4. Continue to minimize our environmental impact on Tortuguero National Park and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst volunteers and visitors.
The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.
Precipitous decline of white-lipped peccary populations in Mesoamerica
Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.
We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.
Our 10 Ethical Commitments
Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
Working Against Dependency
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
Responsible Exit Strategies
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
Clear Roles & Specialized Training
We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
Respect for all
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
Transitioning from the Orphanage Model
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
Child and Vulnerable adult policies
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
NO ENTERTAINMENT-BASED ACTIVITIES
We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos
NO ORPHANED ANIMAL SANCTUARIES
We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases
GUIDELINES FOR TOUCHING OR MOVEMENT RESTRICTION
When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
ANIMAL WELFARE GUIDELINES
We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.
LOCAL COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT
We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.
If you have a passion for wildlife conservation then this course will provide you with the foundational skills and understanding needed to achieve your conservation-related goals. You’ll learn about the various methods of wildlife monitoring, as well as exploring the delicate balance involved in terrestrial ecosystem management. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.
This online course, valued at $395, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Parent Info Pack
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office. Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios. Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page. Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
Support & Safety
We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures are in place throughout each GVI program. Learn more.
Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.
Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.
It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just can’t achieve. This is why thousands of people around the world participate in paid GVI programs.
As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the health and safety of our participants, staff, and local community members at all of our 20+ bases around the world.
The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.
Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations around a program are created, the GVI team takes immediate action to ensure that the situation rectified.