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Volunteering with Rios Saludables

Blogpost written by Alexander Cotnoir, Volunteer with Rios Saludables Program

 

Hello everybody! My name is Alexander Cotnoir, and before I share a snapshot of my work at Osa Conservation thus far along with some of the most exciting experiences I’ve had working with the Ríos Saludables Program, I’d like to introduce myself and share why I decided to join the Ríos Saludables Program as a volunteer over the course of the next few months.

 

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I am currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in biology and environmental studies. Despite my current academic pursuits, my passion for ecology and sustainable agricultural/development practices started long before my entrance into higher education. During my childhood, I enjoyed fishing, hunting, swimming, and exploring the great outdoors along the Quebec border in northern Vermont, and later working for a local branch of the U.S.D.A. and birdwatching with my sister. My passion for the intersection between land use practices, native/local cultures, and conservation was fostered through summer jobs (as a Nutrient Management Plan Intern for the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation District), where I worked with farmers to minimize nutrient loading from dairy farms into local watersheds. I have also fostered an interest for conservation and land-use through conversations with my grandfather, who is a Tribal Leader of the Coosuk Band of the Abenaki Nation working to manage our tribal lands in northern Vermont. At Dartmouth, my interests expanded with courses ranging from “Writing Natural History,” to “Climate Change and Agriculture” and “Native Peoples and Environmental Change” which have allowed me to explore the socio-cultural and economic aspects of environmental problems.

 

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(Heading to our first sampling site at a cattle ranch near Puerto Jiménez)

 

As I was searching for an off-term opportunity to gain field experience in biology and environmental science, the Ríos Saludables Program appeared to be the perfect opportunity. Given my previous experiences with macro-invertebrate sampling and hydrological systems, I knew the Ríos Saludables Program would be an ideal opportunity to continue exploring watershed science, as well as to gain new insights into community-oriented conservation initiatives in a foreign country. Aside from my interests in gaining field experience, becoming involved in a community-oriented conservation program, and applying my studies in biology and environmental science, I also saw volunteering with Ríos as an amazing opportunity to practice my beginning-level Spanish, and to explore the amazing flora and fauna that call Osa’s rainforests home.

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(Working at the Osa Verde organic farm to plant native rainforest tree seedlings. These seedlings will be utilized in a number of reforestation plots on former cattle ranching lands)

Although I’ve only been living at Osa Conservation’s biological station for three weeks, I have already observed that the Osa Peninsula rightly deserves National Geographic’s description as the “most biologically intense place on earth.” Within my first week and a half, I spotted scarlet macaws, toucans, black-throated trogans, green and Olive Ridley sea turtles, a false coral snake, four species of monkeys, peccaries, a tamandua, and even a puma that decided to walk down one of the forest trails in front of me (I was told that this is a rare sight that many locals often don’t see in their lifetimes!). Aside from feeling an immediate sense of awe at the plethora of flora and fauna that inhabit the vibrant forests around the biological station, I’ve also found the local community’s excitement about their unique natural landscape very refreshing and conducive for fostering discussions about plants, animals, and conservation initiatives alike. Despite the many mistakes I make using my Spanish, I have never felt embarrassed because the people are all so kind and appreciate the attempts of Spanish beginners.

 

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(Explaining nitrate test procedures to Alex, a local farm co-op employee, at the spring which supplies drinking water to his hometown)

 

 

Thus far, one of the most exciting experiences working for the Ríos Saludables Program was a trip Rachael and I recently took to sample near a springhead feeding water to a community in Venegaz. Aside from the breathtaking beauty of the Costa Rican countryside, with its winding red-dirt roads carving their way through farmsteads and massive ajo trees, I had a great time sampling macroinvertebrates with Rachael and a local community member who joined us at the stream. Almost immediately after we arrived at the sight, I spotted a green and black poison dart frog hopping in the leaves beside the brook, which the gentlemen excitedly identified for us and shared some of his expertise on the animal. The entire time we spent sampling the stream was enjoyable due to the gentleman’s enthusiasm, my attempts to explain nitrate tests in Spanish, and the tangible connection between watershed and community health that was evident as we sampled near the springhead water collection tank.

Over the course of the next two months, I hope to help standardize Ríos Saludables protocols so that the sampling data can be applied to a larger academic context. I also look forward to doing community outreach with students and local community members, and finding ways to better assess the impact of agricultural activities and road crossings near Puerto Jiménez. I am also excited to help establish watershed testing locations along several additional rivers in the area.

Hasta luego,
Alexander

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Interested in volunteering with Osa Conservation? Learn more here about our various volunteer opportunities!