The beginning of the year at Pacuare Reserve is a time unlike any other. The beach is calm, not yet teeming with thousands of sea turtle eggs. The bunkhouses are quiet, waiting to buzz with dozens of students and Research Assistants from around the world. Most notably, Ecology Project International’s (EPI) Research and Education Coordinator, Claudio Quesada, has just enough time in his schedule to spend a week working alongside EPI Alumni, guiding them through the countless ecological wonders The Reserve has to offer along the way.
After leading a meaningful, productive, and purely joyful EPI Alumni Reunion in 2023, we grabbed our passports and invited another group of spectacular individuals to join us again in 2024. January is the perfect time to gather a group of passionate volunteers at Pacuare Reserve, as it is the crucial point in the year when the beach and hatcheries need to be prepped for the upcoming leatherback sea turtle nesting season.
The 2024 participants included six EPI Yellowstone alumni, one EPI Mexico alum, one EPI Galapagos alum, and three EPI Costa Rica alumni back for more Pacure Reserve magic. One participant, Jasper Lee, participated in four Yellowstone Ecology courses, interned at MPG Ranch with EPI's Bitterroot Wildlife Internship, and received a 2023 EPI Alumni Leadership Award!
It may sound a little crazy that digging holes in the sand every 25 meters on a six-kilometer stretch of beach makes for one of the best weeks of Reunion participants’ lives, but when you couple the digging with delicious Costa Rican meals, fascinating ecology lectures, impromptu Spanish lessons, abundant wildlife sightings, and quality time spent with likeminded people from different backgrounds, you can understand how the week means more than just volunteering.
"The Reunion felt like a return home. Conservation is about coming together to look out for the future of all living species with whom we share this planet. Pacuare Reserve is a significant part of my journey, as my awakening to work with the environment came from my experience with EPI. The Reunion was a reminder of how revolutionary it is to step out of your comfort zone and give back to any living species with whom we share this life," Cassy Rubio, EPI Costa Rica '21 Alum.
In each of the 240 holes, we placed a large location marker (think mile marker, but driftwood) to give future Research Assistants points of reference when reporting sea turtle nest locations. Knowing that our group’s volunteer work would make tireless sea turtle conservation efforts a little easier made every scoop of sand worthwhile. A constant stream of jokes, facts, and freshly plucked coconuts from Claudio helped make the work enjoyable, too.
"We really took the saying “work hard play hard” to heart. Words will never be able to describe how wonderful and fulfilling this experience was. Being at Pacuare Reserve and seeing and experiencing a glimpse of the conservation work that is being done there gives me hope and inspiration for the future of our planet," Aviana Cox, EPI Yellowstone '22 Alum.
As EPI’s Alumni Program Coordinator, the EPI Alumni Reunion is easily the highlight of my year. Through this experience, I get to know the faces behind the email addresses I have previously only interacted with through a computer screen. I get to learn what was so incredible about everyone's first EPI experiences that they felt compelled to come back for more. I get to watch Alumni connect on a deep level, whether it’s through a shared love of an EPI Yellowstone Instructor from years ago, a commitment to identifying as many bird species as possible (Logan counted 76!), or playing double-dutch jump rope with a sturdy vine from the forest. I get to see the positive impact EPI courses have on students' personal, educational, and professional lives for myself, making the EPI Alumni Reunion the most rewarding week of all.
"From this experience, I gained a new direction as I navigate into a new career as an early career wildlife professional. The Reunion brought many new passions into my life and I hope to pursue choices that bring me more happiness like I found at Pacuare Reserve. The Reserve is such a special place to me," Logan Stecker, EPI Yellowstone '23 Alum.
Interested in joining us in 2025? Email Sierra at email@example.com and we'll add your name to the list!