The Path from Idaho to Osa: Sea Turtles & Agriculture

They say that life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. Read about how one Osa Conservation research assistant ended up working with us in a happy twist of fate!

My name is Casey Walker and I am a recent graduate from the Environmental Studies program at the College of Idaho in the United States. Sometimes it does not matter how much you plan out your life because life has a plan for you already.


Research Assistant Casey Walker

I have always known that I wanted to immerse myself in the world of permaculture. The concepts of permaculture are based on both agricultural and social design principles that are wholly centered upon the patterns and features perceived from within natural ecosystems. Despite my ever growing interest with sustainable agricultural practices, my student loans were enormous. Throughout my senior year, I struggled to concoct a strategic plan to live out my dream job and avoid letting my loans hold me back. In the end, most of my plans fell through and I surprisingly ended up working as a research field assistant for the Sea Turtle Program at Osa Conservation. This non-profit organization is near Corcovado National Park and in my opinion has an endless amount of potential with regard towards tropical rainforest restoration.

My initial plan was to fight forest fires for half of the year and volunteer for the other half of the year with the WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) project. After about six years of this rotation I would have my student loans payed off, hopefully. This plan always made me feel uneasy though, because I don’t feel that fire suppression is very effective nor conducive to the natural cycles of temperate forest and grassland ecosystems. One day, my favorite ecology professor, Dr. Yensen, made it very clear that while he understood my financial situation he hoped that I would not “waste” my education on fire suppression. On account of my admiration for this particular professor, I began to brainstorm new ways in which I could pay off my student loans and do what I love simultaneously.

Out of nowhere, I was put into touch with a man out in the Osa Peninsula who had a property near Drake bay. This man convinced me to buy a ticket out to Costa Rica in order to help him develop an NGO based upon a small scale agriculture support system for all the local schools in the area. He wanted for me to manage this project and in return he would pay me on a monthly basis. Well, long story short, those plans did not work out as imagined.


Sea turtle volunteers hard at work on the beach!

Despite the major change of plans, I decided stick around and come up with another find another way to do something positive out in Costa Rica and not let my travels go to waste. I sent out some resumes to conservation NGOs and I received a response from Osa Conservation. They were interested in hiring me as an assistant researcher for their Sea Turtle Program. I was thrilled! I immediately gathered up my things and took a bus out to the Piro research station.

When I arrived I was welcomed by a friendly and professional staff and shown to my room. From that point on I have had a huge smile on my face and loads of energy on the account I am doing something that I enjoy so much. I love my job and it turns out that there is a student loan forgiveness program in the States for graduates who dedicate themselves to a US based NGO for 10 years. Other than the sea turtle conservation program, Osa Conservation just this last year launched Osa Verde, a sustainable agricultural program. There is a great opportunity to move beyond cattle grazing and produce food in a more sustainable manner according to social design principles from within tropical rainforests.


Osa Conservation’s sustainable agriculture farm, Finca Osa Verde.

While working as a sea turtle researcher I plan do what I can with helping Osa Conservation attain their goals at Finca Osa Verde, and who knows, maybe one day I will be living out my real passion and work here full time growing food.


Renee McKeon
[email protected]
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