USYD Marine Science Students Make a Difference in San Juanillo!

by isvolunteers on Thursday, 1 May 2014

In December 2013, a group of biology and marine science students from the University of Sydney (USYD), led by Associate Lecturer Edwina Tanner and USYD student Ryan Liddell, travelled as part of ISV’s volunteer and travel program to San Juanillo, a small rural fishing community on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The team participated in a customised marine conservation volunteer project while also gaining invaluable first-hand experience in contemporary sustainability issues facing rural artisanal fishing communities. Read the official USYD report here.


An incredible wildlife experience – Olive Ridley sea turtles coming ashore to nest at nearby Playa Ostional (c) Edwina Tanner

This December 2014, Edwina Tanner will be returning with another group of students to continue their work in establishing an artificial reef, and there are limited places for other students from USYD or other universities to join them! Contact ISV on to learn more.

San Juanillo is a small community on the Nicoya Peninsula, about six hours from the Central Valley of Costa Rica. ISV began working closely with the San Juanillo Fishermen’s Association in 2007 and since then ISV has assisted this association to incorporate environmentally-friendly fishing practices, promote sustainable tourism and provide alternative sources of income within the ecologically-rich marine and coastal habitats. In 2011, ISV’s work with this community was recognized at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference for “most outstanding volunteer project” award.

To gain a firsthand view of ISV’s volunteer project in San Juanillo, we have two journal entries from Edwina Tanner and Ryan Liddell about their experiences.

Edwina Tanner from the University of Sydney’s Institute of Marine Science

“Coming to San Juanillo (SJ) I had expectations that I would find a traditional fishing village surrounded by a beautiful but somewhat compromised coral reef, that we would undertake a reef check and establish some fish attraction devices and all would be well. When I arrived and looked around I was shocked by the state of the fisheries and the reef as well as by the security needed to guard their catch.

Data Collection

The project was diverse in that it involved tasks on land as well as in the sea, and also with the local community (c) Edwina Tanner

What I also found was an incredibly happy community revealing a variety of characters with many skills and interests living life to the fullest. The people were quick to embrace our ideas and welcomed us into their homes. They participated in all our activities with curiosity and understanding showing us how sometimes their practical solutions could work better than our preconceived plans. I was also blown away by the competence and sense of humor of the other ISV project leaders and depth of local knowledge shown by the marine biologist, Fernando Campos from Costa Rica’s Universidad Nacional.

Having had a fair amount of experience with university students I was really proud of our team’s enthusiasm and willingness to put their best foot forward in all the different tasks and problems that were thrown at them as well as how genuinely they bonded with their host families. I feel honored to be a part of this hard working team and when it was time to say good bye I know that I will always be welcomed back.

I will return to SJ with a passion to benefit the community to the fullest with the opportunity that hard work and science can offer and with a vision of restoring an abundant fishery and healthy reef system for the community to enjoy and benefit from.”

Here’s Ryan Liddell’s experience, a student from The University of Sydney

“Going into a new experience you never really know what to expect, but nowhere in my imagination did I foresee such a positive outcome as

Research and Data Collection in San Juanillo

Research and data collection on sustainable fishing practises in San Juanillo (c) Edwina Tanner

what happened in SJ. I thought that the community might be hostile or indifferent to our research program, but instead we found an enthusiastic community eager to help with every aspect of the project and learn about the science behind it. I thought it might be awkward living with a host family, instead I received more sincere hospitality than I would expect in my own home. I worried both that the students would find the research work boring, and that we might have been asking too much of them in the dense and diverse schedule we had written; neither of these worries seemed to have been a problem, and instead we found ourselves having to keep up the pace with the participants. I had a number of worries before going to SJ to begin the sustainable fisheries project, but now my biggest worry is that I will not be able to focus on my regular life as I count the days until I can go back to San Juanillo.”

About Edwina Tanner:
Edwina is an associate lecturer in the School of Geosciences for Earth, Environment and Society, the University of Sydney’s first year unit for students interested in pursuing studies in Geography, Geology, Marine Science or Environmental studies. She is also working in the University of Sydney Institute of Marine Science (USIMS) coordinating and promoting the diverse range of marine science activities and interdisciplinary research within the university and externally.


Sunsets at San Juanillo (c) Edwina Tanner

Check out the ‘friends of San Juanillo’ FB page here.

Read other reviews from students about their ISV experiences in Costa Rica here.

To learn more about ISV’s programs including this  year’s San Juanillo volunteer opportunities contact our Sydney office on +61 (0)2 9369-5556 or or visit our website.

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