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Coral restoration, citizen science and partners in the Osa

Blogpost by Sawyer Judge

“Was your coral scouting successful?” I hear a lovely British accent come calling from the stairs. Two dogs come bounding down the stairs to the beach as Harvey is helping us out of the boat. The owner of the accent, Susan, makes her way towards us. “How was the boat ride, loves? Come refresh with some juice in the kitchen. It’s cas juice! Fresh made!”

There are six of us visiting the Saladero EcoLodge that Harvey and Susan call home. Harvey and Susan are long-time partners of Osa Conservation, and they’re housing us for a night while we look for sites for the new coral restoration project that our Citizen Science Director, Luis Vargas, is directing. RFA and photographer Eleanor Flatt and I, a donor-retention and administration intern, are accompanying him to document the project. Also with us are members of the National Institute of Learning (INA) – a project partner. We’ve just finished with the work of scouting out some good sites for the project. Harvey is very knowledgeable of the area, and it turns out that the best place to install an underwater coral nursery may actually be right off the coast of Saladero itself!

Picture of the scenery around Saladero EcoLodge

Picture of the scenery around Saladero EcoLodge

We’re glad the coral restoration will take place at Saladero for a number of reasons. The property is nestled in the lush, bay-side rain forest around Golfo Dulce, and it’s a picture perfect example of how conservation and ecotourism live in harmony. Over a pleasant lunch of open-faced tortilla pill-ups, garnished with Harvey’s home-made hot sauce, I learn a little more about the scope of their work.

Some coral found in Golfo Dulce

Some coral found in Golfo Dulce

When Harvey decided that his homeland of Florida wasn’t hot enough for his liking, he and Susan purchased the 480 acres of lowland tropical forest where Saladero rests. They’ve conserved not only the surrounding bay, but enough primary forest for three extensive trails and a mangrove system. Saladero acts as a base for ecotourists, birdwatchers, researchers, and the national park service when monitoring illegal poaching and fishing activity. Much of their conservation work, however, happens in conjunction with Osa Conservation. Camera traps on their trails aid in collecting data on big cats and other mammals as part of our Biological Monitoring Program, and Harvey and Susan conduct quarterly samples of macro-invertebrates to monitor their river health for Rios Saludables. Now they’re excited to welcome our Marine Education and coral restoration efforts as well.

After lunch, Harvey gives us a tour of the property. His background is in carpentry, so the functionality and design of the space is very important. Saladero has everything from a space for students to set up tents and cook outdoors to up-most accommodation for “glamping.” Harvey even got the permits to build some of it himself. The property runs on hydro-electric and solar-electric energy systems. They even have a solar-heated shower. In addition to the facilities themselves, the botanical and agricultural projects they run are impressive to say the least. Walking through the grounds, we help ourselves to the delicious fruits of overflowing mimon and mangosteen trees. We smell the blossoms of the Ylang-ylang tree, the oil of which perfumes Channel No. 5, and we learn about the incredible medicinal properties of the bitter ash tree. Harvey and Susan strive to cook with the ingredients they grow. They even ferment their pineapple into a lovely vinegar, and sometimes make their own chocolate.

Sunset seen from Saladero EcoLodge

Sunset seen from Saladero EcoLodge

After the tour, Eleanor and I borrow paddle boards from the shack and enjoy the sunset, floating on the calm sea. Like magic, we saw sting rays jump from the water and even a group of dolphins before we head back to shore for dinner. Dinner is wood-fired pizza – Harvey’s specialty since he built the wood-fired oven 6 years ago – and traditional coconut ice cream. Susan explains that they often try to incorporate local custom into nature education and experience at Saladero, and their employees contribute a lot to the customs Saladero adopts. “We’re a family here,” says Susan, her eyes sparkling through her purple, wide-rimmed glasses.

Osa Conservation is lucky to have partners like Harvey and Susan at Saladero. Their hospitality extends not only to visitors, but to our conservation programs. They’re hosts for humans and nature alike, and experts at conserving a little piece of paradise.