Reptile and Amphibian Diversity Research in the Costa Rican Rainforest

Contribute to Reptile and Amphibian Diversity Research, working to gain insights into their behaviour, while assisting to protect the Costa Rican coast.

Program Information

Costa Rica is one of the biodiversity hubs of the world, providing opportunities for participants to take part in both wildlife and marine conservation projects. Your hands on work will assist in enhancing the understanding of these species on a larger scale, ensuring their protection and conservation in the long run. Help make a difference and positively impact UN Sustainable Development Goal #15 - Life on Land.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals


You will be joining a team of international participants as an expedition member, stationed on base camp in the Tortuguero National Park of Costa Rica.

As a participant on this program you will conduct surveys and gather data on a variety of reptiles and amphibians that form part of the rainforest ecosystem. While the focus of the project remains reptile and amphibian diversity research, depending on the needs at the time, you will also participate in research on other species, including Jaguars, Aquatic Birds, or even Sea Turtles (dependent on nesting seasons).

You will be making a difference to the ecosystem of the rainforest while also learning a range of practical skills and knowledge that can boost a career in this field.

- You can look forward to some of the following highlights:
- Spending time in the Costa Rican National Park is an adventure in itself;
- Learning about the wildlife and habitat in the local area;
- Seeing unique wildlife in marine and coastal rainforest environments, including sea turtles, monkeys, neo-tropical birds and amphibians;
- Exploring the area by boat and canoe, including remote Caribbean beaches;
- Gaining a wide variety of skills, including learning survey techniques;
- Gaining practical field experience


Surrounded by amazing, rich and diverse rainforest is surreal. Whether its trudging knee deep in mud or working a leatherback, it is truly a rewarding and unforgettable experience!! Plus, there aren´t many opportunities to meet people from such different walks of life.
- Josh Haley (United Kingdom)

Program Details

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Project Life

This project is the essence of remote adventure, as there is no road access to the base. You will truly be surrounded by the natural beauty of Tortuguero’s Caribbean rainforest, with all transport on the green canals taking place via canoe or boat. While challenging, the work will be extremely rewarding, having a direct impact on the research field and projects taking place in the local community. You will also be receiving extensive training and gain practical experience in the field, which could be a springboard to a future career in wildlife conservation

On all GVI projects, we work hard and play hard too, with enough time being allocated to relaxation too. The base is small but comfortable, and provides the perfect environment for you to get to know your fellow participants from all over the world. Camp duties are shared rotationally amongst all the members of the expedition team.

GVI’s programs aim to create global citizens who are passionate about sustainable development and make a concerted effort in the fields of conservation and community development all over the world.

Project Details

This program will provide a solid base for personal training and development, while getting you immersed in ongoing wildlife conservation efforts in the field.

The Reptile and Amphibian diversity research program focuses on
- Sourcing, logging and analysing long-term trend data,
- As well as conducting assessment surveys in specific habitat areas.

You may also be asked to assist with research in a variety of key areas in the field of conservation, including:
- The study of jaguar predation of sea turtles,
- Assessment of any possible impact on turtle populations,
- Jaguar tracking and prey monitoring,
- As well as turtle nesting studies and conservation (during the nesting season).

How This Program Makes a Difference
The programs carried out by GVI’s base in Costa Rica has provided critical data to the Costa Rican government to help them make informed conservation decisions, to ensure the survival of the biodiversity of this unique area of the rainforest. A practical example of this from over the years, includes the fact that our work has been used to achieve massive reductions in sea turtle nest poaching, increasing overall marine conservation efforts in the field.

GVI works closely with the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), and partners with world-renowned organisations such as Sea Turtle Conservancy and Panthera, to provide data and collaborate on conservation efforts in Tortuguero. GVI program participants allows for more areas to be surveyed in greater detail, expanding the wealth of knowledge available to improve and build on current conservation efforts all over the world.

Jalova's short, mid, and long-term objectives:
All of GVI’s programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that are directly linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 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 visualize their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long, mid and short term objectives, as well as gain clarification on how your involvement contributes to these goals on a bigger scale.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after completion of your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

In terms of the long-term objectives you will be contributing to in Jalova, these are the most prominent to keep in mind:
1. Increasing scientific knowledge of Tortuguero National Park;
2. Increasing awareness of GVI’s projects in Jalova and the ecological value of the Tortuguero National Park;
3. Building local capacity to support long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainable community development in Costa Rica; and -
4. Continuing to minimise our environmental impact on TNP and raise awareness of environmental issues amongst all volunteers and visitors.

What's Included

  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting

What's Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal kit
  • Police or background check (where necessary)
  • Visa costs


Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate on programs assisting endangered ecosystems, but also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your downtime, or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after completing a program, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program.

Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI.

See below, where our Jalova field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Costa Rica.

Optional Side Trips
Given your isolated location, a lot of your down time will be spent on base. The rainforest is not exactly a place to go wandering! There are however still possibilities to travel in the immediate area, to make sure you make the most of your time in Costa Rica. These include a visit to Tortuguero Village, where you can browse through souvenir shops, visit the local bakery and experience what life is like in the local community.

Longer term participants, who will have the opportunity to take longer weekend breaks, the opportunity exists to head off base and further explore the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Hiking, snorkelling, fishing, or canopy and zipline tours are just some of the activities that are available for you to book in the area. For something a bit more physically intense, you could raft on the white waters of the famous Pacuare River (on class III to IV rapids) over the course of one or two day trips. If the more adventurous activities are not for you, you could always explore the option a relaxing day in the laid back Caribbean village too.

Further Travelling Opportunities
Costa Rica is an amazing country with an abundance of travel opportunities further afield. The following is just a snapshot of the many possibilities you can explore. Feel free to reach out to GVI’s support team to learn more about the opportunities available to you.
- Admire the famous and active Volcan Arenal from a distance and relax in the natural hot springs;
- Surf the Salsa Brava – a hotspot of the Caribbean for the advanced surfer;
- Ride horseback on the beach in Puerto Viejo or simply enjoy miles and miles of beautiful beaches sun kissed by palm trees;
- Spot migratory raptor birds in the Talamanca Mountains;
- Visit indigenous villages to learn more about their amazing culture;
- Discover the cloud forest at Monteverde;
- Visit the hummingbird gallery;
- Enjoy the locally made ice cream and other fresh dairy products;
- Walk among the treetops on the hanging bridges;
- Enjoy the organised wildlife tours of Braulio Carrillo National Park;
- Travel across the country to discover the beautiful Pacific Coast with its hidden white sand beaches;
- Visit Volcan Irazu and discover coffee farms on the way back to San Jose

The Team

Thjis Claes

Bird Poject Leader
Meet Thijs, our resident bird expert and project leader. Thijs was first attracted to GVI by the perfect mix of education, wildlife, science and communal living that we offer. He holds a Master in Biology (with a focus on freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem stability) and this knowledge comes in handy while in the field.

Thijs has explored deserts and swamp areas in southern Africa during a group journey, he has completed a Leadership and BST internships at GVI Jalova, and has volunteered for a scientific laboratory, governmental organisation and nature organisation. What is the best part about working for GVI? "Being in close contact with wildlife, the possibility to continuously learn and working in a close team towards valuable educational and sustainability goals."

Danny Guy

Jaguar Project Leader
Meet Danny, our nature loving jaguar project leader! Danny has some extensive volunteer and travel experience, including volunteering at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, and travelling to see and experience animals in the wild (South Africa, Kenya, Rawanda, Tansania and Borneo) where him ad his team usually camped in tents with basic equipment. He also completed a wildlife internship at Jalova Tortuguero with GVI and he was especially interested in gaining more hands-on experience through this experience.

He fondly recalls his favourite travel memory: "When volunteering in South Africa, after the day’s work, we were on our way back to our house when the big bull elephant stopped us just before our gate. We decided to watch him for a while as he proceeded to pull down one of the trunks of our fig tree treehouse. Once he’d pulled it down he called the rest of the herd up from the valley below. They stayed around the tree for the rest of the night and we had to drive around the back of our volunteer area and climb over the fence."

Cormac Healy

Base Manager
Meet Cormac, our lovely Base Manager in Jalova, Costa Rica. This Scotsman is a rather eccentric guy and his fantastic sense of humour is one of his most appreciated characteristics. He achieved a Master's degree in History and Politics, and quite evidently can keep his own in any conversation on any topic.

His love for travelling started in his younger years already and since then he has explored New Zealand, Canada, the states, and South Africa! What is his one travel must-have? "A towel of course (for further information please read a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)."

Mac first joined our office team as a GVI Country Expert for Thailand and Costa Rica and he particularly enjoys getting the chance to meet people who are really passionate about volunteering. He thinks of himself as Carl Frederickson from the movie Up. "Just a bloke who enjoys sitting in a comfy chair; I think we can all relate to that." Mac, we absolutely agree!

Shayle Havemann

Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.

When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!

Megan Brett

Incidentals Project Leader
Meet Megan, our Incidentals Project Leader in Jalova. She loves anoles, frogs, and all the other animals she can find in the jungle, which seems to be a good fit with what she is doing here with us at GVI. Megan has previous experience working on a dairy farm and with local conservation groups in New Zealand.

While working with GVI she gets plenty of chance to see and identify interesting animals. Costa Rica is quite a change from what she is used to but she loves the chance to use her training in zoology and ecology with a very different ecosystem than any she would find in New Zealand, her home country.

Laura Dix-Bowler

Business & Systems Analyst
Meet Laura. In addition to once being a promising figure skater, Laura is also a trained animal handler, and used to volunteer at a zoo in NYC. She likens herself to Blossom from the Powerpuff Girls, “She’s the brains of the operation”. We can’t argue there, HQ would fall apart without her!

She joined the Costa Rica Wildlife Expedition as a volunteer and immediately knew there was no going back to working for The Man. She became an ambassador and started planning her next trip when we sent her the Regional Coordinator vacancy. 5 weeks later she was in Cape Town!

Laura’s one travel must-have she recommends to volunteers? Coconut Desert Essence shampoo… “It smells amazing and it’s environmentally friendly. No-one should have to sacrifice their hair while travelling, even in remote environments.”

Cynthia Arochi Zendejas

Costa Rica Country Director
Meet Cynthia, our Country Director in Costa Rica. She started out with GVI as one of our National Scholarship Program participants in 2006 and later became our Programme Coordinator in Mexico. Her skills and enthusiasm just made it too hard to let her get away!

Cynthia is a certified Veterinarian, an EFR Instructor and holds a Master’s degree in International environmental Science. She is also a member of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation, chapter Costa Rica.

The most interesting things she’s experienced during life in the field? “Watching the turtles hatching! Also finding jaguar tracks and being able to participate in community tours.” Apart from those, Cynthia also loves arranging and participating in the fun Charity Challenges with volunteers.

What does Cynthia think volunteers bring to the projects? Since our goal is to provide support to local organisations which don’t have the human or economic resources to achieve their conservation or sustainable development objectives, our volunteers play a key role by being the hands needed, or helping to fund raise for those projects.”

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