Lewes Old Grammar School students get a taste for adventure during Costa Rica conservation volunteer programme

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Catching caimans and removing sea turtle eggs from the threat of poachers were just a few of the activities undertaken by students from Lewes Old Grammar School (LOGS), as part of a hands-on conservation programme. The students, all in Year 11 and 12, travelled to Costa Rica’s Rio Oro National Wildlife Refuge during the summer break. The reserve is the most important Olive Ridley and Green Sea Turtle nesting site on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. It is located in the country’s Osa Peninsula, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.

Conservation work included undertaking night patrols to monitor, measure and tag nesting turtles and collecting eggs as they were laid. Eighty-two eggs were removed from the beach to a new nest in the reserve’s hatchery, away from the dangers of poachers or predators. Students also helped with day-to-day maintenance on the reserve, fixing holes in butterfly netting, erecting signs and planting mangroves. Lessons in Costa Rica were unlike any they had experienced in their Lewes classrooms. Students learned how to set up motion sensor cameras in the jungle to capture wildlife images and listened to talks by marine biologists. They also took part in Latin dance classes, made traditional wooden masks, and learned how the local population made and dyed material for trade.

Michelle Fox said the conservation programme had instilled a sense of adventure in the group, which would help them throughout their university and working careers. “This trip was a once in a lifetime experience and will have a lasting impact on the lives of our students. We travelled to Costa Rica to learn about wildlife conservation, but this project was also about broadening students’ horizons, introducing them to completely different environments and cultures. As well as the conservation work, we also visited supermarkets, explored rivers, caves and waterfalls and learned about local crafts and dance.”

The students were taught how to safely catch, handle, measure and tag caimans during the action packed programme. They undertook a 12 km hike to view wildlife and waterfalls in temperatures of 30 degrees and 85 per cent humidity and went on a 3.5 km zip line ride through the jungle. The programme was created by Working Abroad, an organisation which delivers conservation, education and healthcare volunteering projects across the globe. Working Abroad was founded by LOGS parent Vicky Kornevall-McNeil and her husband Andreas.

As well as conserving native wildlife, the students also had the opportunity to view Costa Rica’s diverse range of species with whale watching trips, boat trips through the mangroves, jungle treks and snorkeling. “There were risks to undertaking a trip like this,” added Miss Fox, “But they were managed risks. The trip taught our students a valuable lesson – you don’t get great experience without sometimes taking a risk. And for those students who were initially scared of an experience such as the zipline, overcoming these fears helped build their confidence.”

Student Jack, 16, said the trip had helped emphasise the role of working within a team as well as conservation. “Costa Rica was a fantastic experience – we balanced fun with learning about the impact of the conservation work we were undertaking. We gained so much from the reserve staff and their amazing knowledge of marine biology, something we hadn’t learned about before the trip.”

“Our group learned about the importance of working together. When we spotted a turtle laying her eggs, it was literally ‘all hands on deck’ to ensure the eggs were collected quickly and all the right measurements were taken. It was really important as all of these actions had to be carried out in the dark.”

“We left Costa Rica with a better awareness of endangered species and why it’s so important to conserve the environment we live in.”