What is interning abroad with sea turtles really like?
Have you ever stayed up all night on a tropical beach under the piercing stars waiting for a beautiful animal to saunter up to you? You wait hours for it to dig a hole and deposit ~100 eggs in the sand before carefully covering them up with its’ flippers and crawling back into the ocean. That, and more, could be part of your experience during a marine conservation internship abroad, if you choose to focus your efforts on sea turtles. But keep in mind, field work with sea turtles is not all glamour and glory -- there are some things you should know some things before jumping on the sea turtle internship boat!
1. You Are Going to be Asked to do Manual Labor.
Your internship may possibly include, but will not be limited to: digging up nests and reburying them in up to 60 cm of sand, capturing turtles from a boat and lifting them into it, carrying heavy field equipment, and assisting with usual camping duties, such as cooking, washing dishes, raking sand, trimming trees, building fences, picking up trash, and even cleaning bathrooms.
2. You Will be Expected to Assist with Other Projects.
In addition to your own individual research project, you will likely be asked to assist with anything that your supervisor or other visiting researcher is working on, and it is the best way for you to bolster your CV with additional experiences and skills. While not all projects will include the handling of sea turtles, all projects will work towards a better understanding of the habitats on which sea turtles rely.
3. You Will be Outside of your Physical and Cultural Comfort Zone.
You will go through the several rounds of culture shock. Even though you may speak the language of your host country, you will likely be living like you never have before – mostly outdoors with insects, reptiles, and flying mammals. You likely will feel the effects of new food and sleep patterns too. You will feel sad because some people still poach turtles and you will see turtles affected by injury or disease. You will feel lost and alone when the locals start speaking fast and telling inside jokes!
Do not expect that you can hang at the pub and shoot pool while watching your football team. In the tropical areas of the world where sea turtles nest, you will more likely be invited to birthday parties and quinceneras where new salsa and reggeton dance moves will be added to your repertoire.
4. There May be Spotty Telecommunications.
Using Google all the time? Forget it! We are all addicted to our smart phones, but it is better if you put it away for a few months and live in the moment. Your supervisors will provide communication methods to ensure your safety, and without the distraction of the phone/internet, you will be more aware of your surroundings and experience the sea turtle internship program fully.
5. You’ll Learn How to Communicate.
Not just in a local language (that is mostly up to you how much you try to learn!), but you’ll receive mentoring on how you to present data, write up scientific results, and present to audiences in English. Even if you are not in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field, you will still find these skills required to effectively communicate your ideas valuable throughout your life.
6. There is No Textbook or Lab Book.
If you are looking for a perfectly planned and organized research expedition, please tell us if you find one! Field research is difficult and unpredictable. You’ll be given a research plan, materials, supplies, and the training you need. However, nature and human beings do not always do what we thought they would do. Often times, you must “go with it” and adjust the research plan to meet the actual conditions of your site. Weather, broken vehicles, equipment failure, delayed nesting seasons, etc. all have to be dealt with as a research team. By problem solving through these challenging experiences, you will be even more qualified and marketable for future field work after your sea turtle internship abroad.
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7. You Will Learn How to Live Simply.
Sea turtle internships are the Peace Corps of internships - 90% of the world, and most places where sea turtles forage and nest, are not “first world.” You likely won’t be provided with high tech research equipment, because locals won’t be able to easily replace it. One of the major takeaways of interning abroad with sea turtles is getting the chance to observe people being very happy with very little. So, get ready to learn some outdoor and indoor survival skills that you will carry with you forever and will empower you to live off the grid.
8. Give Yourself Time.
Many research missions take a few days to get up and running once you get to the site. Sea turtle egg incubation takes 45 days, so you’ll need to stay at least that long if you want to see their nests hatch and then get to release the baby turtles into the ocean. You also need time to collect a good size sample of data, because nature (and humans!) do not always behave as you expect.
No matter what sea turtle project you work with in the world, you will likely go through some cultural shock related to “island time.” Where sea turtles live, coincidentally, time tends to be slower and the locals (just like turtles) do not rush their daily lives. This may be the only time in your life you have time for reflection and relaxation, so enjoy it while you can!
Why choose sea turtle internships abroad?
Sea turtle internships are designed for the world’s future STEM leaders, who will use skills they acquire in science, technology, and international teamwork to tackle global conservation issues. In fact, saving sea turtles from extinction is one of those time-sensitive and culturally-complex issues that spans international boundaries. As a former sea turtle intern once said,
...it is imperative for the future of our planet and society that decision makers can understand science and work with other countries.”
If you are willing to push yourself beyond anything you have done before, you should consider a sea turtle internship abroad (check out this sea turtle internship opportunity in Latin America first!). All you need to do is bring your open mind, some adaptability, problem-solving skills, curiosity, friendliness, and sense of adventure.
Ready to start your search? Browse sea turtle internships abroad now.
This article was contributed by The Science Exchange, an organization that provides sea turtle internships throughout Latin America, to provide a realistic overview of field research for the beginner.