Volunteer Research assistant opportunity! Apply now to be a Volunteer Research Assistant on the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii at the BFREE Field Station.

BFREE's mission is: “to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize.”

The Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) is located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains on a 1153 acre biological field station in southern Belize. Founded in 1995, BFREE's primary goals are to assist the government of Belize in the conservation of Belize's protected areas and natural resources. This is achieved through facilitating scientific research, conducting environmental education programs and helping increase conservation awareness within the buffer communities nearest BFREE. Over the last twenty years more than 100 interns and long-term volunteers have stayed at our tropical research station in the middle of one of Central America’s largest remaining tracts of intact rainforest. Not only have volunteers benefited from the unique experience of living and working in the tropical rainforest, but their creative contributions and hard work have helped tremendously with our wildlands conservation, sustainable living, and environmental research and education efforts.

We can't wait to hear from you, click the APPLICATION button below to apply today!

BFREE is now offering an extraordinary opportunity to learn how a non-profit research station runs while gaining extensive experience in field methods as a Volunteer Research Assistant!

Apply now to be a Volunteer Research Assistant at the BFREE Field Station for Field Research experience on the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle:

Volunteer Research Assistant, Belize, Central America

Field Research on the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii at the BFREE Field Station

Located within the tropical forests of southern Belize, the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education is now seeking dedicated and motivated individuals to assist in a growth experiment with one of the world’s most critically endangered freshwater turtles, Dermatemys mawii. Research Assistants will provide support to a University of Florida Ph.D. student conducting a cutting-edge experiment to study the nutritional ecology of Dermatemys mawii, locally known as Hicatee. A fully aquatic species at home in rivers, oxbow lakes, and lagoons, restricted only to eastern Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize, this turtle has been poached to the brink of extinction for its meat and is currently classified as Critically Endangered.

The experiment will take place at the BFREE Biological Field Station in southern Belize, home to a captive breeding facility for the Central American River Turtle, the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC). The HCRC was created in 2013 as a joint effort between BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) to launch a multi-prong conservation effort to halt the decline of the species and investigate the reproductive biology and nesting ecology of this little known species. The HCRC is the only facility of its kind in the world. Since June 2017, the HCRC has gained over 60 hatchlings and many more are expected to continue to hatch. These hatchlings will be the main subjects of an experiment to study the nutritional ecology of Dermatemys mawii to determine if hatchlings that acquire gut microflora by eating their parents’ feces grow quicker than ones that don’t. The results of this study will inform captive management and developing reintroduction protocols for this species.

In this immersive opportunity as a Volunteer Research Assistant, you will directly be a part of the recovery of one of the world’s top twenty-five most endangered Chelonian species in one of the largest intact tracts of tropical forest in Central America.

The Volunteer Research Assistant duties include, but are not limited to:

  •  Assisting in a Ph.D. candidates experiment to study the nutritional ecology of Dermatemys mawii
  •  Monitor eggs during incubation and ensure healthy and successful hatching
  •  Provide daily feeding and care of the adult turtles and nearly 100 hatchlings
  •  Assist in the construction of the enclosures and experimental design
  •  Document growth of the hatchlings and clean and maintain their tanks
  •  Assist in routine maintenance of the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center
  •  Collect daily observational data on the turtles

Volunteer Research Assistants will gain extensive field experience, learning objectives include:

  • Unique opportunity to acquire cutting-edge field work experience, be part of top-notch research and work closely with one of the most critically endangered Chelonian species in the world
  •  Learn about conservation strategies in tropical environments
  •  Learn new techniques relevant to ecology and wildlife management
  •  Gain experience in scientific methodologies and data collection in the field
  •  Broaden personal horizon by working in a foreign country
Hundres of students from around the world are taking the pledge to #SaveTheHicatee!


BFREE is seeking motivated Volunteer Research Assistants for the remainder of 2017. Availability for Volunteer Research Assistants range from August 1 - December 31, 2017. Start dates are flexible, however- applicants must apply for a minimum of three weeks.


This is a complete volunteer position. Field Assistants will pay their own travel costs to the BFREE Biological Field Station and a project fee of $40 per day (3 week minimum required). This project fee covers food, accommodations, trainings and staff support while at the BFREE Field Station. A large number of past students have received funding and/or credit from their host institution to participate. Belizean rates available for local students, please contact Tyler Sanville at tsanville@bfreebz.org to inquire.


No experience necessary, though preference will be given to individuals with experience in captive care and husbandry of reptiles and amphibians.

  • A positive and flexible attitude, desire to learn and work hard, willingness to adapt to a changing work environment
  • Comfortable living in remote and rustic living conditions in a tropical environment, ability to get along with others in tight, close-knit, living conditions.
  • Commitment to BFREE’s mission and a passion for environmental education and conservation
  • Selected applicants must complete a physician signed health form of good health
  • Be available for a minimum of three weeks

All volunteers will assist with general day to day needs around the field station including the cacao and coffee agroforest work, helping with meal preparation and clean-up, assist with trail maintenance, town runs, and administrative tasks. Duties may change as determined by current needs at the time of your assignment.


Please email BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville with a letter of interest as well as a completed application to tsanville@bfreebz.org to be considered for BFREE Volunteer Field Assistant opportunities. You will be notified once your application has been reviewed.

Begin your application, email tsanville@bfreebz.org with:

  1. A letter of interest stating preferred volunteer position as well as preferred field dates.
  2. Completed Volunteer Field Assistant application (Note: The fillable PDFs need to be downloaded, then filled out and saved in Acrobat only as they are not compatible with other viewers such as Preview for Mac, or the browser viewer in Safari or Chrome.)


If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville by email at tsanville@bfreebz.org.

We can't wait to hear from you, click the APPLICATION button above to apply today!

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