Sydney Harned - 2011 Program Participant

Girls dressed link ninjas

Sydney and her friend Sarah dressed up like ninjas before their first turtle trek. They dressed in dark colors and long sleeves so the turtles wouldn’t see us, get scared, and return to the ocean before laying her eggs. 

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I’d always been interested in traveling abroad, especially to study marine science. I thought it would be a great experience for me to learn more about the ocean while becoming more independent.

What attracted you to Broadreach's programs? How did you hear about them?

I actually found out about Broadreach a few years before my first program when I stumbled upon their website on Google, but it wasn’t a realistic option for me until a few years later. After reading through some of the trip descriptions, I immediately knew there was no other program out there quite like these.

It’s not often that an incoming sophomore in high school has the opportunity to work alongside real researchers at a Sea Turtle Conservancy while simultaneously experiencing another culture. I knew immediately that the Broadreach experience didn’t compare to any other high school camps or travel abroad programs, and was completely transfixed on going on a program.

What type of accommodation did you have while in Costa Rica? What did you like best about it?

Counting turtle eggs in Costa Rica

One of the researchers at the STC doing a nest excursion, counting the number of eggs that didn’t hatch.

We changed locations three times in Costa Rica, and each experience was different. We started in the rainforest near the Sarapiqui river, where we stayed in huts at a resort that offered ziplining, rafting, and repelling. Each hut had a queen sized bed, and the resort had a restaurant where we ate each of our meals.

When we moved to the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Tortuguero, we were “roughing it” a bit more than we were previously. The girls and boys stayed in separate rooms with bunk beds, and our meals were cooked for us by the friendly cooks working for the research station. I personally loved this experience, because our accommodations were the same as the researchers working at the STC, so it was a very authentic experience.

Our last stop on the trip was Drake Bay. After a week of hard work and late nights on the beach looking for turtles, Drake Bay was the perfect place to rest and recover. We stayed at a resort complete with air conditioning, laundry service (which was a HUGE deal at the time!), and an incredible view of the ocean. I can’t imagine a better place for the group to reflect on our trip and enjoy our last few days together.

Describe a typical day during your Sea Turtle Studies program.

At the STC, we would usually wake up around 10 a.m. and have breakfast, which was the traditional Costa Rican black beans, rice, and eggs. The mornings were usually for working on papers or homework that we had due, and the afternoons were lectures. The lectures were always fun and engaging, and usually lasted about an hour or so. We had free time to work on any work we had, read, or practice our Spanish with the researchers until dinner which was usually around 6:30 or 7 p.m.

The real fun started at 8:00 p.m., when the first group of students headed out to the beach to look for turtles. We had four groups: two groups would go out from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and two groups from 12:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. We rotated the times so everyone got a chance to work each shift. The turtle walks were unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

Tortuguero is not an urban place, so there is almost no light pollution. This meant the stars were incredible bright, unlike anything I’d ever seen since I live in a city. Shooting stars started to become commonplace. The sand was also lit up with bioluminescent plankton; it was like a scene out of a dream. We would walk up and down the beach taking in the scene until we came across a turtle making her way onto shore to nest. This is when the real fun began. We would approach her slowly, as to not scare her back into the water. We would take turns measuring her carapace and counting her eggs, and the researcher we were with would tag her flipper to keep track if she came back the next year.

When turtles lay eggs, they go into a trance, so the turtles weren’t bothered by our presence. On average, we would see anywhere from four to eight turtles a night. On my first night, we saw 10, which was a great start to an amazing week. Turtle walks were, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.

Snorkeling in Drake Bay

Sydney’s trip leader, Phil, and her hanging out in the gorgeous blue waters of Drake Bay after a snorkel.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in Costa Rica?

I think the biggest challenge I faced was getting out of my comfort zone and meeting new people. I went on this trip without knowing anyone, which was a huge step for me during this time in my life. The first week I had a hard time coming out of my shell and getting to know everyone on my trip, but by the end I had made so many valuable friendships. This trip was a huge step for me maturity-wise and the experience helped me grow comfortable in situations I’m not used to.

What makes Costa Rica such a great location for sea turtle studies?

Costa Rica has tons of nesting beaches which makes it a great place for sea turtle research, but what made the experience so valuable to me was how intertwined the culture was with the turtles. “Tortuga” means turtle in Spanish; Tortuguero is literally named after the sea turtle. We got to interact with locals and learn about traditions and customs that involve turtles, and see how the culture is shifting since the idea of conservation had been introduced in the town.

People in Tortuguero had grown up eating turtle eggs, but this custom has become less popular since the turtle populations have started to dwindle. Overall, we got to see the impact that the STC and other turtle programs were making in Tortuguero and Costa Rica in general. 

How did the local Broadreach staff support you throughout your program

The staff was great. The trip had three leaders that were all fun, knowledgeable, and passionate about marine science. The trip leaders wanted us all to have a safe and amazing experience, and that was evident throughout our entire trip. The trip leaders can make or break a travel abroad experience, and my Broadreach trip leaders have always been nothing short of incredible. 

What was your favorite part of Costa Rica? Anything you wish you would have done but didn't have time for? 

It’s so hard to pick a favorite part of my trip, because everything we did was unique and amazing in it’s own way. I think, for me, my time spent at the Sea Turtle Conservancy was my favorite part, because it reassured me that conservation was what I wanted to do with my life, and gave me the opportunity to experience real research at such a young age. I think that Broadreach does a great job of exposing students to as much of the country as they can in three weeks, so I don’t really have anything I wish we could’ve done…I wish we could’ve stayed longer!