From an ISV Volunteer to a Sea Turtle Researcher

by Narelle Webber on Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Katherine Bender (middle), an ISV Costa Rica alumni, now lives her passion as a Sea Turtle Researcher © used with permission by Wagner Quiros, ISV’s Costa Rica Project Director (at right).

Katherine Bender is an ISV alumni who volunteered in 2010 with ISV in Costa Rica at a sea turtle conservation project. As a result of her ISV experience, today Katherine works as a Research Assistant for the internationally recognized sea turtle conservation organization and long-time ISV partner in Costa Rica, WIDECAST.

Katherine’s volunteering journey (below) is a true testament that volunteering can lead to your life long work!

“In the summer of 2010, I had the privilege of traveling with International Student Volunteers (ISV) to Gandoca, a small town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It was here that I worked with the organization WIDECAST, the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, helping with their leatherback sea turtle nesting project. I had just completed my sophomore year at UC Davis in California, studying Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, and was eager to travel, and gain some hands-on field work experience. In Gandoca I learned that before the presence of WIDECAST, there was almost 100% poaching of turtle eggs from the local beach. ISV was instrumental in working with the local people and aiding in the prevention of poaching, through the presence of staff and volunteers patrolling the beaches at night, and relocating eggs to the safety of a monitored hatchery.

Katherine made a promise to herself to do her best to help conserve sea turtles. © used with permission by Wagner Quiros.

I was fortunate during my time there to witness multiple nesting female leatherbacks instinctively crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. To see such a massive animal use their hind flippers so diligently, yet daintily as they excavate their egg chambers and deposit their eggs is a sight I will never forget! It was during these moments that it occurred to me how amazing these creatures really are, and the more I learned about them and the perils they face, the more interested I became. I was also able to hold and measure newly emerged hatchlings before placing them on the sand to scurry into the sea to begin their ocean journey.

It was while holding my first hatchling that I made a personal promise to do my best to find a way to help conserve sea turtles, spread the word about their struggles, as well as return to Costa Rica.

ISV supports and assists in conservation programs of the endangered Hawksbill and Black sea turtles

Continuing to nurture my new found passion, in the summer of 2011, I interned at the South Carolina Aquarium´s Sea Turtle Hospital, where I helped to rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles. In the spring 2012, I worked in Florida to search out, mark and protect loggerhead nests. Throughout my varied internships, I used my early experiences in Costa Rica to inspire others, and maintain my focus.

 Summer 2012, brings me back full circle to Costa Rica, where I am currently a Research Assistant with WIDECAST. We are working on in-water research projects studying hawksbills and eastern pacific black sea turtles in their foraging grounds on the Osa peninsula. The goals and importance of our projects are to determine the population structure, genetic origin, and habitat use, of a population of sea turtles that has not been previously studied. It has been a very rewarding, enlightening experience, and I am happy to be working with sea turtles again in Costa Rica.

ISV gave me the opportunity to travel and volunteer abroad, meet like-minded people, and the experiences I had helped me find the one thing that truly inspires me, and what I hope to be my lifelong work and passion.”

Well done Katherine! You are an inspiration to others and ISV is so pleased to have played a role in your current career path which is making a positive impact on our planet.

For more information on ISV’s volunteer programs in Costa Rica or other countries, please visit our website


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