Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors, Wildcats

My Experience in the Osa

Hello my name is Kenroy and I am a student at the Professional Technical College Sabalito (Costa Rica), a school in which students can study rural tourism. Over the past three years of studying in this program, I have learned the importance of tourism in Costa Rica.

roy 3At the end of our three year program, students choose a place for supervised practice, in my case I chose Osa Conservation. This organization carries out projects related to volunteerism and research, in addition to the monitoring and conservation of wildlife. Osa Conservation opened the doors for me to practice my skills. I arrived on October 6th to the organization’s field station located in Piro, one of several properties that Osa Conservation has in this area.

Simply arriving was a great adventure, because I took many forms of transportation to get there from my home in Sabalito. One of the most interesting legs of this is the boat leaving Golfito crossing the Golfo Dulce. In the 30 minutes it takes the boat to reach Jimenez you can admire many beautiful landscapes. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales!

I also found the “colectivo” to be an interesting and unique travel experience. This is the only form of public transport used to reach the station in Piro and is a large truck with benches in the back. Although the journey is long and bumpy, it’s very important and worth it because it allows tourists and locals to travel around Osa and to Piro.

In this organization, volunteers help with projects such as beach cleaning, turtle patrols, monitoring big cats, working in the nursery, sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and general conservation. One of the most exciting things is the work done with sea turtles.  I have seen very few turtles in my life, so this is a great opportunity to learn many things about them and their conservation.

The work done in the vivero, or sea turtle nursery, is also very important, because each time you find a nest in a vulnerable area, where the tide can expose turtle eggs, they are extracted and taken to the nursery. Here they are in one place safe, in the right temperature and without predators. This is a way to ensure the successful birth of most of the turtles.

turtle nest

It is a beautiful experience because when the turtles hatch they are released on the beach, where they swim out to sea to begin what we hope is a long life. I have also been working with camera traps, which are a form of wildlife monitoring that runs 24 hours a day. Thanks to the camera traps, Osa Conservation can keep track of cats and other mammals that would otherwise be difficult to observe.

These cameras are placed at strategic points throughout the property and Osa Conservation is encouraging and training other landowners of the Peninsula so that they can monitor their properties in order to create a larger network of eyes on the Osa.

Cleaning of the beaches has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had since I came to the the Piro station. I hope to have many more amazing experiences in the next two months, to contribute as much as possible to this organization and of course the conservation of the Osa Peninsula.

 

Aquatic Health, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

The Future of Sea Turtles

turtle picture

The fluttering of papery wings; back and forth, back and forth. They open and close their tiny mouths. Nocturnal hungry bats, paired with the incessant whir of cicada wings and the low, ominous drone of Howler monkeys are the evening calls of the Osa. These sounds signify the awakening of all things that dwell in the night. Usually, it also signifies our bedtime; unless it’s an evening of turtle patrol.

When I took herpetology as a senior in college three years ago, my professor used to joke that, “Herpetologists are the night-owls and ornithologists are the morning people”. But, working with sea turtles breaks the mold. Sometimes, we rise at 3:30am. Donning our headlamps, we make our way down the winding forested trail to Piro or Pejeperro Beach, and scout for turtle tracks and hatchlings as the sun paints purple and pink ribbons across the sky. Sometimes, we have to sip on coffee (like the local Ticos do) post-dinner to keep us from falling asleep before a night patrol. Patrols typically begin at 8:30pm and can last beyond 1:00am. In my three weeks of being here, I’ve seen five Loras (Olive ridleys) and two Verdes (Greens) gingerly crawl from the surf to lay their eggs. I’ve measured their shells and tagged their flippers . And just last night, we saw a white light flashing ever closer to us on Piro—a sign of poachers. We had to abandon patrol.baby turtle

Poaching of turtle eggs is a sad reality here in Costa Rica. For many, it’s a feasible way to make a living and support a family. But through education, the next generation can learn the importance of conserving their country’s already threatened sea turtle species.

As a sea turtle Research Field Assistant, my main responsibilities are conducting patrols, maintaining the hatchery, and providing a steady presence on the beach. But the Carate Sea Turtle Festival last Saturday reminded me of my experience with outreach education. The enthusiasm and receptivity of the children around me was incredible, whether they be Spanish speaking locals or English speaking visitors. All partook in eagerly picking up and exploring local invertebrates with spoons and forceps, and dashing around the beach like a mother turtle (but a little faster). They learned what sea turtles eat (seagrasses, sponges, jellies, ect.), what they accidentally eat (plastic), and how we can keep plastics out of our ocean by using reusable alternatives. Later, we danced to a local band that sang songs about el bosque and la playa and the animals that call them home. Mid-dance, I helped a local toddler collect hermit crabs in a bucket. It didn’t matter that I hardly speak Spanish; our enthusiasm spoke for us. I can only hope that every child I met in Carate shared a similar enthusiasm and will remember the day we celebrated sea turtles, for their future is in all of our hands.

Uncategorized

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Birds, Environmental Education, Science and Research

Love-songs and Lovebirds in the Osa

Read about Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero’s research on the singing patterns of birds in the Osa. The intense biodiversity around our stations provided her with a perfect place to conduct her research. We love learning more about the incredible birds of the Osa!

Did you know that many species of birds sing duets? Vocal displays are one of the most researched interactions between and within species. There is a great diversity in the structure of singing behavior. I have been investigating the learning process of duets in Osa songbirds. Duets are complex songs that large groups or paired mates sing in coordination with one another to produce a wide array of performances. Not only are duets complex in how they are structured but several species also have a big repertoire of duets that they use non-randomly. For example, a particular phrase from a female is only sung in response to a particular phrase from a male and vice versa. This coordination is not only hard to produce but also hard to learn.

Riverside Wren

Riverside Wren

I chose to study the development of Riverside Wrens, Cantorchilus semibadius which inhabit the pacific slope of southern Costa Rica. Riverside Wrens are found next to rivers and wetlands and they sing elaborate duets. I decided to conduct my research at Osa Conservation because they have a large population of these Wrens right next to their station.

At this first stage of my PhD I am beginning to describe how juveniles from each sex start to learn and practice their vocalizations. So far I am seeing that in the earlier stages vocalizations are quite atypical, in the intermediate stages single individuals are performing whole duets, and in the latter stages individuals are singing with siblings and their parents. Initially, they sing both male type or female type songs interchangeably. In the latter stages individuals mostly stick to one type of vocalization, either male or female depending on their sex. This means that juveniles need a rehearsal period to learn how to duet and that the interactions with sibling and adults while practicing is essential. I believe investigating the relationship between social influences and duets is important in understanding such an intriguing and complex behavior.

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Banding the Wrens

 

 

Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero

PhD Student-St. Andrews University, United Kingdom