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From the Field: Ríos Saludables Program Update

Blogpost written by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Hello fellow nature enthusiasts! My name is Hilary Brumberg, and I am the new coordinator of the Ríos Saludables (Healthy Rivers) program. I just graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut a few weeks ago with a degree in environmental science and Spanish, and I am a Princeton in Latin America fellow.

My day-to-day activities here in the Osa Peninsula are very different from those in urban Connecticut. Each morning, I crawl out of my bug net and emerge among the mango trees on our organic farm. I chat with my fellow research field assistants over breakfast about their projects, ranging from releasing baby sea turtles to setting dung beetle traps.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saludables

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saudables

Here in Osa, no two days are the same. I just finished June water quality testing at our community sites. This includes traveling around the peninsula, meeting dedicated conservationists and families who are curious about the effects of agriculture and roads on their neighborhood water source. The testing has allowed me to meet many friendly faces, including the manager of a farmers’ co-op, a town director of ecotourism, watershed managers, gardeners at an eco-lodge, and families concerned about the cleanliness of the rivers where their kids swim.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales with the Ríos Saludables program

To study the river water quality, we examine both what is dissolved in the water (chemistry) and what is alive in the water (biology). We survey the rivers for our mighty mini-beasts, or macroinvertebrates, whose presence indicate the health of the river because they are sensitive to pollution. While chemical monitoring provides a “snapshot” of the water quality at the time of sampling, macroinvertebrates tell a story about what is happening in the stream over a period of time. Results of the chemical tests and macroinvertebrate surveys indicate that human land use negatively affects the water health.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

I am designing a study to look at the effects of oil palm and teak tree farming on river health. Eventually, I plan to expand the study to examine how these processes affect important mangrove ecosystems. I am excited to spend the coming months exploring new rivers and ecosystems around the Osa Peninsula!

For those, such as myself, who love field research, data analysis, environmental education, speaking Spanish, looking for bugs, and splashing in rivers with kids, the Ríos Saludables is a perfect opportunity.

Volunteers and Visitors

A First Impressions of the Osa

Blogpost written by Sawyer Judge, Volunteer

Before going to the Osa for the first time, I was looking forward to seeing rare big cats, incredible crawling insects and of course the famous scarlet Macaw’s that thrive in the region. But the Osa was so much more than I could have ever expected and it amazed me from the moment I got here!

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

Photo by CIFOR on Flickr

The taxi ride to Osa Conservation’s biological station is bumpy, but with taxi-driver Andi (a man from Germany who has lived in the Osa for 10 years) as your guide, there’s plenty of interesting things to learn. Andi has an incredible eye. Even while driving he can spot a family of tropical screech owls sleeping in a shady branch. In response to my awe, he replied, “when you’ve been here as long as I have, things become easier to see.”

Some things are easier to see than owls, even to the untrained eye. Closer to the biological station we passed something out of Dr. Suess. With skinny trunks about a dozen feet high or more, and wide, almost pentagonal leaves, the trees rise from the ground erect like a field of a telephone poles. “What are those?” I asked. “Oh, those are teak trees – young ones, too – maybe 6 years old,” Andi answered.

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Photo by Feona on Flickr

Andi went on to explain that teak trees are among some of the fastest growing tree species. Their wood is highly durable and makes good construction supply for exteriors and boats, due to the wood’s water resistant properties. Although not native to Costa Rica, these trees are doubly used here for quick forest cover and lumber supply – a good resource for quick wood, whether you want to keep it or chop it.

The fact that teak trees are a prominent source of lumber here is a double edge sword. As natural teak tree forests throughout Southeast Asia dwindle, commercial farms in places like Costa Rica increase to meet high demand. And, unfortunately, this is becoming an increasing threat to conservation throughout the country. Although reliance on teak means less exploitation of endemic tree species, teak requires a lot of land and resources which can harm and often pollute the environment. Teak could be a healthy alternative to lumber but only when managed responsibly.

I have been amazed by the things I have seen and learned in my first few days here. I can only image what the next few weeks will bring. Stay tuned for future blogs as I delve into experiencing the Osa!

Birds

A Breathtaking Birding Experience

Blogpost written by Patrick Newcombe, Conservation Visitor 

When I first arrived in the Osa for my birding experience, the tremendous diversity of birds astounded me. I seemed to spot a new species each time I walk into the forest around Osa Conservation’s biological station.  Even at the station itself, I saw such birds as the Fiery-billed Aracari, an endemic species in both Panama and Costa Rica. The species diversity stems, in large part, from the selective pressure insectivorous birds put on their prey. This causes insects to adapt in order to evade their avian predators. In turn, the bird predators must specialize alongside their prey to catch the insects.

 

 

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Black-cheeked Ant Tanager is one of these insectivorous birds and is only found in the Osa Peninsula! Its population numbers fewer than 15,000 individuals. I found Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers at four different locations in the area and spent hours noting their presence in mixed species flocks and observing their fascinating behavior.

 

Photo by Patrick Newcombe

Black-Cheeked Ant Tanager / Photo by Patrick Newcombe

 

 

I also studied Manakin distribution around Osa Conservation by birding the surrounding trails and recording their presence in a GPS. I was thrilled to find 21 unique locations and view at least 5 leks. A lek is when birds perform elaborate mating displays. Red-capped Manakins tended to be concentrated in primary forest either near the border of secondary forest or in a clearing from tree falls, which create patches of secondary growth.

 

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

 

Another highlight from my time here was helping to conduct point counts of birds in areas that will be reforested with different concentrations of the fast-growing balsa tree, an experiment that tests the efficacy of this idea for reforestation. Learning the methodology for conducting point counts, as well as understanding the reason for using them in grasslands, fascinated me. These counts reflected the Osa’s enormous avian diversity, and I am glad that I contributed to such an important project that could help the birds that I am so passionate about.

Birding in the Osa was a unique experience that allowed me to learn about and contribute to avian diversity.

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Building a Sea Turtle Hatchery

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

As a sea turtle volunteer, I have spent the last few weeks here in the Osa constructing the turtle hatchery for the upcoming nesting season. Each year, the hatchery is moved to a new location along the beach in order to relocate nests in an area with “clean” sand which was not used in the previous nesting season.  The process is long and tough and requires many hours and many hands, but the end product is so rewarding that the work is well worth it.

We begin the project by moving barriers from the old hatchery to the site of the new one. The barriers are made of bamboo, which protects the hatchery and the nests inside from the large high tide waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, group builds up the outer walls of the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, volunteers help build the outer walls of the hatchery

Next we begin the important step of sifting the sand one meter down (about the depth of a sea turtle nest). This step is important for removing debris and obstacles from the sand where new nests will be relocated. Sifting of the sand is the longest, most labor intensive, process in the creation of a new hatchery. Once all of the sand has been sifted and placed in the new hatchery location, it is time to make the surface flat and compact again.

The next step is to fill hundreds of sacs with sand in order to reinforce the outer barrier of the hatchery fence, which provides protection of the sea turtle nests against predators. Predators of sea turtle nests include dogs,  coatis, vultures and more.

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

 

We then build the structure using newly cut recycled bamboo and cover it with nets to further protect it from predators. The final step is to section off the inside of the hatchery into a grid system which allows us to identify every nest inside. These codes from the grid system make it easier for us to track and predict when the nests will hatch.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

As you can see, building and maintaining the hatchery each season is hard work. Thankfully, we have the help of volunteers and school groups that come to help move the process along. It is fun work done along a beautiful beach! Not to mention, we get fresh coconut water during our breaks!

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa to build the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa Conservation to build the hatchery

 

Special thanks to Colegio Puerto Jimenez for their help in building the hatchery. To learn more about how you can get involved with our Sea Turtle Volunteer Program, please check out this link below:

Saving Sea Turtles