The Sea Turtles 911 Volunteer Internship Program (VIP) in Hawaii or China provides college students and young professionals hands-on experience working on the 'frontlines' of endangered species conservation and research, which has been featured in Yale University's magazine. The program is developed by marine turtle experts on the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and includes thorough instruction on sea turtle biology and conservation so that students may receive college credit from their university upon approval. The program requires a minimum term of ten (10) weeks with acceptance open throughout the year. Each week, new topics in sea turtle biology and conservation will be discussed:
Anatomy, diving physiology, necropsy, and skeletochronological aging of sea turtles
Rescue, rehab, medical treatments, and health monitoring of sea turtles
Cultural history, market trade, ecotourism, economic value, and social sciences of sea turtles
Genetics, DNA forensics, population dynamics, imprinting, and natal homing of sea turtles
Ecological roles, invasive species, habitat utilization, and life cycle of sea turtles
Migratory behavior, satellite telemetry, and technologies to identify and track sea turtles
Nutrition, diet formulation, foraging ecology, husbandry, and captive breeding of sea turtles
Reproductive biology, gender ratios, and climate change impacts to sea turtles
Fisheries by-catch reduction, sustainable seafood, aquaculture, and sensory biology of sea turtles
Pollution, plastics, persistent organic pollutants, and marine debris impacts to sea turtles
Interns will work under the supervision of our knowledgeable staff and once the intern has gained adequate instruction, they will be asked to perform many tasks independently. They can gain experience in all areas of the organization, but will maintain a focused project area to develop through their own creativity and interests. This is designed to challenge interns to find their niche to make a unique contribution to the conservation of the ocean environment. If you are looking for an unique experience living on a tropical island immersed in Hawaiian or Chinese culture, working with marine animals, educating the public about endangered species conservation, and giving back to the community, then the Sea Turtles 911 volunteer internship program is for you.
Conservation Education and Public Communications
Sea turtles are known as flagship charismatic species that have the potential to influence the protection of many other marine animals, including dolphins, sharks, and whales, due to spillover conservation effects. Interns in educational outreach will tackle the challenges of creating effective public awareness campaigns and educational opportunities which not only imparts information, but also inspires their target audience to action. They will establish and maintain communication with teachers and journalists; create lesson plans and activities; write articles for different media outlets; and provide conservation education 'in the field' as well as in the classroom. Interns will work to gain public attention through mass communication to show people how important sea turtles are to their lives. Interns work with local schools, hotels, and the media to promote marine conservation to the general public.
Interns will contribute to the development, promotion, and implementation of our educational programs, including school field trips, ecotourism programs, hotel educational programs, online programs, and university presentations. In particular, each intern will create a focus project in one of the areas that they will work on during the duration of their internship. The focus project can include the creation of new or the improvement of current educational program activities and materials in use by Sea Turtles 911. The educational project will involve the exposure of sea turtle conservation issues locally, domestically, or internationally, and ultimately cultivate community support.
Conservation Research and Technology
To advance sea turtle conservation, conducting research in all aspects of the biology of sea turtles is important to the scientific community, management agencies, and conservation organizations throughout the world. Research interns will contribute to the expansion of sea turtle conservation through scientific investigations. Interns are encouraged to design new research projects or work on current research projects with graduate students and professors.
Because the scales on each side of a sea turtle's head is unique like fingerprints of humans, research interns can be involved in computer assisted Photo-ID (PID) to re-identify individual sea turtles, monitoring movement trends and habitat use. See the following paper for more details:
Carpentier, A., Jean, C., Barret, M., Chassagneux, A., Ciccione, S. 2016. Stability of facial scale patterns on green sea turtles Chelonia mydas over time: A validation for the use of a photo-identification method. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 476, 15-21.
Reisser, J., Proietti, M., Kinas, P., Sazima, I. 2008. Photographic identification of sea turtles: method description and validation, with an estimation of tag loss. Endangered Species Research 5, 73–82.
Interns in China will be trained in rescue and research techniques such as blood sampling, tissue biopsy, necropsy, and satellite tagging. Our research team has deployed satellite tracking tags to learn more about sea turtle migrations - where they breed, where they eat, and where they are spending most of their time so that we can establish marine protected areas to save them. Read about the time when the U.S. Ambassador to China helped us release two satellite tagged sea turtles named "Harvard" and "Yale":
With our research partners from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), City University of Hong Kong, and Hainan Normal University, we have published satellite tracking research.
Eco Tourism and Hospitality Partnerships
Through tourism, we can educate more people about sea turtle conservation. Tourists have the opportunity in Hawaii to encounter sea turtles in nature, while tourists in China can see turtles in our rescue centers. We have established hospitality partnerships with some renowned hotel resorts, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton, and Westin, to advance our public awareness efforts in conservation education. The hotels provide us with a podium for our message of sea turtle conservation to the public. An intern working in this area would help develop and implement education programs and events at each resort location, while improving our public relations. Depending on the resort, this could include giving sea turtle conservation presentations, leading sea turtle conservation events, marketing eco friendly tourism packages, and leading sea turtle tours. Interns will also work with tour agencies to develop and implement ecotourism itineraries for tourists interested in voluntourism, green travel, and wildlife animals. We encourage interns to advance our hospitality partnerships with innovative ideas for tourism collaboration. For example, tourists have the opportunity to adopt and release our rescued sea turtles.
Rescue and Rehabilitation
Interns in China will be trained by knowledgeable staff in sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and husbandry. Interns will assist our staff in administering medical treatments to our injured sea turtle patients, including fluid therapy, antibiotic injections, tube feeding, vitamin and physical therapy. Biweekly, interns will take blood samples from all of the sea turtles in our care, prepare samples for health assessment, and analyze clinical results to adjust medical treatments. Furthermore, interns will aid in the daily husbandry of sea turtles, including feeding, cleaning, hospital upkeep, and overall care for the turtles. They will have the opportunity to work with different species of sea turtles, with the possibility of working with each species in different life stages. It is important for all interns to be knowledgeable and have a first hand account of the human imposed threats that sea turtles face, and what better way than aiding sea turtles in their rescue and recovery.
Preferred Requirements and Expectations
Sea Turtles 911 provides interns with the unique opportunity to live and work on the tropical island of Hainan or Hawaii for a grassroots conservation organization. Thorough training and instruction will be provided at the beginning of each intern's term, and guidance provided throughout. Interns should be comfortable working independently, be self-starters, and be responsible for maintaining regular communication with other organizational volunteers and staff. Expectations will depend on where your internship takes place:
Gain field assistant experience as you record observations of sea turtles and their habitats in natural environments
Gain exotic animal handling and husbandry experience as you work in direct hands-on contact with sea turtles
Build work experience as a scientific interpreter and public educator as you protect sea turtles from public harassment
Learn rehabilitation techniques as you assist in medical treatments and procedures to rescue sick and injured turtles
Expand your resume in communications and human resources as you recruit local and international volunteers
Build scientific investigation experience as you train in sea turtle research techniques and tools
Develop programming experience as you coordinate ecotourism and citizen scientist programs at hotels and beaches
Gain work experience in program coordination as you implement education programs at local hotels and schools
Advance your technical skills and experience in marketing as you engage in social media campaigning for a good cause
Gain teaching experience as you educate children and students the importance of protecting sea turtles
Discover Hawaii and Polynesian culture as you build value through conducting public outreach activities for turtles
Discover China and Chinese culture as you conduct public outreach activities for ocean awareness and turtles
Gain work experience in sales, fundraising, and event planning for a good cause!
Learn an ancient language by practicing Mandarin Chinese with native speakers!
For interns in China, they should be ready to live within a very different cultural setting. China can be a very rewarding experience for those who have an open mind and a willingness to be adventurous! But there are cultural differences that can lead to challenges, which allow you to gain perspectives from the eyes of an entirely different culture. Interns can expect to gain rehabilitation experience working hands-on with endangered sea turtles, an experience not often available in the U.S.
For interns in Hawaii, the accessibility of nature and the Aloha spirit of the Polynesian culture is part of Hawaii's allure but it is important to approach this opportunity with a realistic attitude. Interns can expect to gain field experience observing behaviors of endangered sea turtles, but will not be handling the turtles in nature.
Applicants must have a sense of adventure, be comfortable in new cultures and able to work efficiently with others. Although interns will have projects they will be focusing on during their term, much of their day-to-day work will originate on an as-needed and opportunity basis. 'Island Time' dictates plans may frequently change and schedules will become irregular. Interns must be flexible and relaxed to the ever-changing requirements of the organization, its program participants, and its partners in conservation.
Program Fee and Certification
Since we are a non-profit charity, we rely on program fees to cover the costs of the internship for students who wish to be part of the journey to save sea turtles from extinction. Upon completion of the program, graduated students will receive an official certificate with an unique quick response (QR) code, which can be scanned to verify authenticity of the document. Student graduates can also have their names listed on our website, which further confirms their participation in the program when they list this experience on their resume for future job opportunities.
Photo: NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming, a student of Shanghai Jiaotong University, receives the prestigious certificate from Sea Turtles 911 in 2014.
Program Registration and Application
Since the field of conservation encompasses many areas of expertise, students with career interests which expand into a variety of fields are encouraged to apply. In today's world, many industries benefit from a background in environmental conservation knowledge and experience to incorporate into their long-term goals of sustainable growth and social responsibility. To apply for this internship, complete the Program Registration Form and send your resume and cover letter to: firstname.lastname@example.org. In your cover letter, please indicate which location you are interested in: Hawaii, China, or both.