Caretta Research Project provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for people to experience the ancient rituals of sea turtle nesting and hatching. Volunteers spend one week (Sat-Sat) in the heart of the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge (GA), living right alongside Sea Turtle Biologists and being involved in every facet of the project.
While collecting data and protecting nests, volunteers may experience the wonder of seeing an adult turtle emerging from the ocean to lay her eggs or the joy of witnessing hatchlings "boiling" up from the sand and scurrying down the beach to the ocean.
It's truly an experience of a lifetime and we hope you decide to join us.
After making your way to Savannah, Georgia, the first step of the CRP Experience is meeting CRP staff and your fellow volunteers at Landings Harbor Marina on Skidaway Island. From there, volunteers take a scenic 30-minute boat ride through the coastal salt marsh ecosystem to Wassaw Island.
The boat ride through Wassaw Sound and the intricate network of tidal creeks surrounding the island is often highlighted by numerous playful dolphins and elegant shorebirds. Some may even catch a glimpse of sea turtle breaking the surface to take a breath along the way. For those unfamiliar with coastal Georgia, this is the perfect introduction to the pristine beauty of the area.
Transport is provided by our dedicated Captains for Caretta, a group of local boat owners that volunteer their time and boats to deliver people and supplies to Wassaw. Their knowledge of the waterways enhances the experience.
Upon arriving, participants are given a brief island orientation, then are set free to explore the island or catch some sleep before dinner and setting out for the first night's sea turtle patrols. Each night, participants should be prepared to be on the beach from approximately 9pm to 6am depending on the season (see below). When turtle activity is slow, however, patrols are interspersed with much needed coffee and snack breaks.
Because most of the sea turtle research activities are conducted at night, most mornings are spent sleeping during the cooler hours of the day. We highly encourage volunteers to sleep as long as possible, but the allure of the island and the beach - and sometimes the heat of the day - make "sleeping-in" difficult for some. A typical day might entail sleeping from 6am to 1pm, grabbing a quick snack, then either walking the trails or to the beach, helping out with daytime research activities or enjoying a good book. Because sleeping schedules among crew members can be highly variable, dinner around 6-7pm is the only communal meal.
The excitement and occasional intensity of the nighttime turtle experiences are nicely balanced by the relaxed, island-life speed of the day.
(May through July)
Nights are spent patrolling seven miles of beach looking for female turtles that have emerged from the ocean to lay their eggs.
When a turtle is spotted, the team waits for the right time to begin collecting data. Participants measure the body size of the turtles and assist CRP Biologist in applying tags to each turtle. If eggs are laid in a high risk area, then participants relocate the eggs to a safer area closer to the dunes. Participants then help cover all nests with screens to protect the eggs from raccoons and foxes.
Because turtles lay their eggs at night, daytime is when the team sleeps and has free time to explore the island, relax or catch up on any reading.
(August through September)
At dawn and dusk every day, participants help check each nest for signs of hatching.
If lucky, participants can witness a "boil". The sand begins to churn as the hatchlings make their way to the surface, then the hatchlings emerge from the sand and begin their journey to the ocean. By escorting the hatchlings to the sea, participants help keep many predators away.
Five days after the hatchlings emerge, participants help inventory the nests. The contents are carefully excavated to determine the hatching and emergence success of each nest.
Because not all the nests hatch at once, there's usually more time during the Hatching Season to sleep during the night and enjoy daytime activities.
Participants live in two small cabins nestled in the heart of the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bunkhouse (pictured on left) is a one-room dormitory with six bunk beds, an indoor bathroom and an outdoor cold-water shower. The Bunkhouse has a partition, but complete segregation of the two sides is not possible. Depending on the male-female composition of each week's crew, only partial segregation is possible. Embracing group living is part of the CRP Experience!
The Turtle Cabin (not pictured) has a small kitchen, the staff bunkroom, an indoor bathroom/shower, and a screened dining area. Electricity is limited and available only in the Turtle Cabin. Housing is rustic and there is no air conditioning in either cabin, but conditions are cozy and comfortable.
All food and meals are included in the registration fee. Dinners are prepared by staff and shared together, while other meals and snacks are self-serve throughout the day and night because sleeping and eating schedules among crew members may vary. Dinners may include grilled chicken, stir-fry, spaghetti and tacos. Team members help with daily housekeeping, dinner food prep and cooking, and cleanup.
CRP is happy to accommodate any dietary preferences and/or restrictions. Please indicate any preferences or restriction when submitting the volunteer application and waiver.
Life on a National Wildlife Refuge is beautiful and serene, but conditions are not always for the faint of heart. Days can be hot and summertime storms can be intense. Resident alligators, snakes and spiders grace the turtle team's presence on a regular basis. Mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks are ever present, but thankfully carry no human diseases. Sometimes the conditions on Wassaw test a person's passion, will-power and sanity, but few people leave Wassaw without a sense of pride and joy for the sacrifice they have made to study and protect a threatened species in the heart of a pristine wilderness.
(See Logistics page for more detailed instructions on where to meet and what to pack)