How to Volunteer

In General

We work on Ruler’s Bar, the large island in the center of Jamaica Bay, which is readily accessible by car, bus, and train (A) (directions). Most years our work is limited to the nesting season, June and July. Unfortunately, we can’t have any volunteers under 17 years old.

Volunteer work can be arranged around anyone’s summer schedule. Prospective volunteers should contact Dr. Burke via email (biorlb@hofstra.edu) or on Facebook (Jamaica Bay Terrapin Research and Conservation). Most volunteers decide to come out one or two days/week, others come out for one longer stretch of days or weeks.

You can see what a typical volunteer day looks like by watching this video . The work mostly involves walking through known nesting areas and looking for nesting terrapins, then following a standard protocol for marking nests, capturing terrapins, and data collection. We also go in areas where visitors are not allowed. When you do this, you must be wearing an official terrapin volunteer t-shirt. Volunteers are never more than a 30-minute walk to the Jamaica Bay Visitor Center, which is air conditioned and has water and restrooms.


The first step is Scheduling, which you do using a Google calendar. When you email Dr. Burke (biorlb@hofstra.edu), send him your gmail account name (create one if you don’t have a gmail account) and he will set up your access so you can add to the Jamaica Bay Terrapin Calendar. Then, when you open up your Gmail you will see an icon composed of 9 squares arranged in a square shape on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Click on that icon to see the services Google provides, one of them should be labeled calendar. [If you click the link it will open the calendar which can be narrowed down, if you have multiple calendars, by filtering which calendar you want using the list located in the left margin near the bottom.]

To schedule a day and time you want to volunteer, click on a day (if you are looking at an entire month) or time (if you are looking at one day or week) and a box should pop up prompting you to create an event. Enter the information for the event and choose the appropriate calendar from the drop down menu (Jamaica Bay terrapin Calendar). For more options, (to change the time, color code different tasks, provide a description…) you can click on “Edit Event”.  Please include your name and phone number with every volunteer session you sign up for, so if we have to cancel for some reason we can reach you. Make sure you are signing up on the terrapin calendar, not your personal calendar, or your entry will not be visible to others. To do this, look on the left side of the calendar page and you will see drop-down lists that say “My calendars” and “Other calendars.” Select “Other calendars” and then “Jamaica Bay terrapin Calendar.” The little box to the left of the calendar name should be filled with a color. Enter your volunteer schedule while this calendar is active. (Clicking the calendar name again will hide the calendar and any entries you make will be visible only to you.)

We need people every day, more or less 7am-7pm. Feel free to sign up for the same time as other people; we usually need more than one person at a time.

Showing up to volunteer

Newbies: Always schedule your volunteer time on the Google calendar every time before coming out, so we know to expect you. On your first day go to the visitor center at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (directions). The Visitor Center is on Cross Bay Boulevard a mile south of the town of Howard Beach, and you can get there by car, bike, bus, and train (A). There’s a big parking lot there, a bike rack, water fountain, and friendly park service people. When you get there, call the supervisor for the session (check the Google calendar). Cell phone service is spotty and we may not hear you, but the Park Service people can direct you to us at “the Box”. If possible, one of us will answer and direct you to wherever the action is, and start training you.

You should bring water, a cell phone, binoculars and camera if you have them, food/snacks, sun block, and a hat. Shorts and sandals are OK. We supply all note-taking equipment. It’s good to be prepared for rain since terrapins do come out on days when there are showers followed by sun, and we are often a long walk from shelter. There are mosquitoes/no-see-ums especially around dawn/dusk so you might want to bring your favorite bug repellent. Special Terrapin Researcher Volunteer T-shirts are available free to keep for those that make a serious volunteer commitment.


We can’t stay on top of phone calls all the time, but we can do emails and Facebook: if you haven’t already, you can join us at the Facebook group Jamaica Bay Terrapin Research and Conservation. You can always email Dr. Burke at biorlb@hofstra.edu.

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