top of page

Our history

Photo: Batsú Estudio

A success story in the world of conservation and turtle protection

The Pacuare Reserve came into being in September 1989, the day John Denham created an English charity, The Endangered Wildlife Trust, to buy 688.6 hectares of land lying between the Caribbean Coast and the Tortuguero Canal. At that time, the land was divided into six separate holdings. The smallest was owner-occupied, the largest owned by businessmen in Limon who tried to earn a return from coconuts or from grazing cattle on land they had cleared.

The coastal land between the Matina and Pacuare rivers has never been occupied by more than a handful of people and there were only four people living on the 688.6 hectares that comprise the Reserve today. During the turtle season, swarms of poachers came to the beach to take the eggs of the Leatherback and Green turtles, and few nests survived. Green turtles were killed for their meat which was readily available in every restaurant in Limon. A quota on green turtles meant, in practice, that poachers and fishermen could kill as many as they liked, either harpooning them at sea or taking them when they came to lay on the beach.


Gradually, over the next few years, the Reserve became what it is today. We took on experienced biologists to supervise the turtle program. We built ‘cabañas’ to accommodate volunteers and especially the school groups brought from the US by Ecology Project International (EPI). Ever since Scott Pankratz, the founder, first came with two groups in the year 2000, EPI has brought hundreds of US students each year as well as Costa Rican state school students which EPI subsidizes. 

Ecology Project International
and Pacuare Reserve

After fifteen years of collaboration and long-lasting friendship with our founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn, Pacuare Reserve founder John Denham has entrusted this special place to EPI.


By making EPI the new stewards, he and his fellow Pacuare trustees have ensured that this 1700 acre gem of biodiversity will remain a safe haven for vulnerable leatherbacks and other sea turtles and an incredible array of other species as well; such as the elusive agami herons, jaguars, monkeys, and tree frogs. This shift also ensures that critical education and research programs at Pacuare will continue long into the future.

We plan to strengthen science, education, and government partnerships, engage local Costa Ricans in the management of the Reserve and share our model of community-based conservation through a new suite of professional development offerings for teachers, scientists, and nonformal educators. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

In 2013, funders John and Hilda were named Sustainable Travelers of the Year by the National Geographical Society.

John and Hilda's  legacy is kept alive every day: with every student that enters this natural classroom  to learn about the wonderful ecosystem that surrounds it and how to protect it, with  every  responsible  traveler whose visits allow for  continuity  of our conservation  efforts,  and  with the  work  of  every  volunteer  and researcher who keeps  the  Reserve  safe  for  all  the  species  that  call it home.

Hilda and John Denham_edited.jpg

About Ecology Project International

In the 1990s, our co-founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn were an educator and a scientist working and studying in Costa Rica. Both recognized that, in spite of federal protection and conservation science happening in the area, many critical habitats and species continued to decline. Sea turtle eggs were sold at local markets and piles of trash washed up on the beach during rainstorms.


Scott and Julie realized that unless locals valued and protected wildlife and the critical habitats in their own backyards, conservation efforts would ultimately fail. They also recognized that people can’t value what they don’t understand. In short, they needed a way to involve locals in the work of conservation.


In 2000, they launched the first EPI program in Costa Rica – four local courses for Costa Rican students and teachers. Many of the students lived within five miles of the project site and had eaten sea turtle eggs, yet none had ever seen a live sea turtle.

Through dedication to our mission, we've grown to five countries and become a leader in conservation education, connecting students with scientists on active research projects in the world’s most important ecological hotspots. In the time since that first course, more than 44,000 students have joined us in the field, and their impact is profound.

For more information visit our main webpage at:

bottom of page