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Sea Turtles and Tropical Ecology in Costa Rica

Faculty Leaders

Jonathan Shurin

Prof. Matthew Herbst

Jonathan Shurin is Professor in the Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution.  His research aims to uncover the working of ecosystems- Why are some green and leafy while others are barren? Why do some contain more species than one could count in a lifetime and others only a few? This work takes him to the tops of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the kelp forests on the wild Pacific Coast of Canada, and the rainforest of Colombia. He is also interested in measuring the value of the services provided to society by natural systems such as clean water and productive fisheries. He believes in the transformative educational value of first-hand experience in ecosystems for students of biology and learning by systematically observing and quantifying patterns in nature.    

David Holway
David Holway photoDavid Holway received a B.A. in zoology from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D in biology from the University of Utah. He joined the UC San Diego faculty in 2001 and has served as campus director of the UC Natural Reserve System and chair of the section of Ecology, Behavior & Evolution.





Why you should go

The New World tropics are a monument to biodiversity. A small patch of forest in Costa Rica may contain more kinds of trees, birds and insects than all of North America. Our destination, Ostional, is the scene of a regular wildlife spectacle - the mass nesting when hundreds of olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs. You will experience wildlife and ecosystems that only a lucky few get to see. In addition, you will live in homes of Costa Rican families and experience their culture and hospitality.

Who should go

Anyone fascinated with biology, diversity, ecology and the conservation of nature.

Information Sessions

  • Monday, Jan. 29 at 3:00-4:30 pm
  • Register here for the live Zoom link, and/or to get the post-session recording.

See the Info Session Calendar


Departure from U.S.: Sat., June 29, 2024
Arrival: Sun., June 30, 2024
Program-Start: Mon., July 1, 2024
Last Day of Class: Fri., August 2, 2024
Departure for the U.S.
(or personal travel):
Sat., August 3, 2024

Flight Information

  • You will be responsible for purchasing your own airplane tickets, and your program coordinator will provide guidelines and resources during the pre-departure process to help you find an appropriate flight.
  • Do not purchase plane tickets until the program is confirmed. All approved applicants will be notified by e-mail when the program has reached minimum enrollment.

Global Seminar Fees

All fees subject to change. See for current tuition and campus-based fees.

  UCSD Other UC Non-UC
Program Cost:
(includes $500 administrative fee)
$6,160.73 $6,160.73 $6,160.73
Estimated Tuition and Campus-Based Fees:
$2,514.43 $2,564.43 $3,454.43
(not including airfare or personal expenses)
$8,675.16 $8,725.16 $9,615.16

Budget Sheet

Funding Options

See the funding options page to learn how financial aid and scholarships can help you pay for this program.

Liberia City

Liberia City is the largest city in the Guanacaste Province. We will spend one day in town visiting the local park, market and iconic buildings before heading to the San Juanillo the following day.

San Juanillo Bay and Ostional

San Juanillo Bay is a small fishing community with a direct link to the marine protected area of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. Here, we will have field forest training/study and participate in immersive local experiences like visiting fishers and farms, and joining community games, events, and initiatives. In Ostional, we will actively experience and study sea turtle nesting ecology. 

Local family traditional activities/cooking

Ostional is located within one of 5 Blue Zones in the World (Nicoya) where the healthiest people on the planet live. We will learn about corn, its connection to local indigenous groups and current traditions, and make tortillas and cheese with a local female community leader.

Playa Nosara, Guiones

Located in the southern limit of the refuge, this is a world-renowned tourist destination that will allow us to learn and discuss the impact of tourism in Costa Rica. Read more about Playa Nosara.

Parque Nacional Santa Rosa

Visit one of the first Costa Rica National Parks and its particular tropical dry forest, one of the remaining jaguar sanctuaries of the country. Read more about Parque Nacional Santa Rosa.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Spend several days in this national park named after the Rincón de La Vieja Volcano. It holds Costa Rica’s biggest geothermal plant and an important water reservoir. Explore boiling mud pots, steam vents and mini-geysers. Read more about Rincón de la Vieja National Park.


Throughout this program, students will be introduced to new methods and environments for learning. Instruction will take you outdoors in a tropical environment, where heavy rainfall, high humidity, and dramatic temperature changes are common. The near-daily field activities are a mandatory, core part of the curriculum that can involve long-distance hikes over rough terrain. Consider the physically demanding nature of the program when deciding if this is the right fit for you.


Excursions are subject to change without prior notice. No refunds are possible.

Housing (Homestays)

  •  Double or triple room with local host families in San Juanillo & Ostional
    • Shared bathrooms with host family
    • Wifi available
    • Access to family kitchen, although meals are included

Included Meals

  • Welcome & Farewell group dinners
  • Almost all meals are provided by your host family including weekends. Students will only be responsible for about 4 meals during excursions.

Classroom and Computer Access

  • Classes will be held in various locations including the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment, Ostional National Wildlife Refuge Library (all are a 10 minute walk from participant housing)
  • Wireless internet in classroom
  • No computers available for student use; Students must bring their own laptop


  • Group transportation provided to/from Liberia Airport
  • Transportation for all included program activities


  • More information about how to obtain a SIM card will be provided at the pre-departure orientation.
  • Students are responsible to purchase and have their own working cell phone.

Insurance, Health, and Safety

  • An in-depth orientation will be given after arrival, including health and safety procedures.
  • Program partner staff are available and nearby 24/7.
  • All students must register for UC travel insurance. This is free coverage, but registration is required prior to departure.