Uncategorized

Put an End to Harmful Plastic Pollution

Blogpost written by Emily Bartone, Sea Turtle Research Field Assistant

Working with the sea turtle program, I feel lucky to spend my mornings patrolling Osa’s picturesque beaches looking for nesting sea turtles. However, one feature that can often distract from the beauty of these beaches is the presence of plastic waste that still finds its way to the coastline. While this pollution is unsightly, more importantly, it’s harmful to wildlife.

Volunteers clean up trash on Piro Beach

Despite ongoing beach clean ups,  plastics can accumulate on our beaches because it washes up with the tide. What doesn’t make it to shore likely gets caught up in one of the several massive gyres of trash floating in the world’s ocean. Because plastic is non-biodegradable, these gyres are forever growing. Every single piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists in some form. It may break down into tinier pieces, but it will never disappear.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Sea turtles are particularly susceptible to the dangers from marine plastic. Throughout the oceans, sea turtles are commonly found tangled in discarded fishing nets, unable to swim for food or air. Some turtle species that rely on jellyfish for food, such as the endangered leatherback, mistake floating plastic bags for this prey. Sea turtles are unable to digest the plastic they eat, so it accumulates in their gut and creates deadly blockages. As more and more plastic pieces enter the ocean, it’s becoming impossible for turtles to avoid consuming it.

Volunteers clean up beach trash

 

While our efforts to complete beach clean-ups in the Osa make an important difference in reducing the plastic in these ecosystems, there are many ways that the average person can also help prevent the plastic from arriving in the first place.

Consider the waste that you create in a day – how much of it is plastic? Bottles, bags, packaging… likely all plastic! One small lifestyle change people can make to reduce their plastic waste and help protect sea turtles is to minimize their use of single-use plastics. This includes things like packaging of individually wrapped snacks. Instead, buy in bulk and store your purchase in your own container; carry reusable water bottles and shopping bags; ask for your drink without a straw at a restaurant; carry silverware in your bag to avoid plastic cutlery. Remember to ask yourself: While it may be more convenient for a moment, is it worth endangering wildlife and polluting the planet for eternity?

Help us protect sea turtles and minimize the plastics that make their way to our oceans.

 

 

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Keeping Up with our Vanilla Conservation

Blog Post written by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Research Field Assistant Biodiversity & Conservation

I love vanilla! But did you ever wonder where it comes from? From the vanilla bean. But not from a tree; it comes from an orchid, which grows up the tree as a vine.

However, it is not that simple. Each flower opens for only 24 hours and must be pollinated within 8-12 hours. If pollination does not occur the flower wilts, drops from the vine, and no pods are produced. The vanilla bean’s pollen is covered by a little septum (called the rostellum) that separates the anthers (male features), and stigma (female features). This means the some creature to go in and break this septum; a pollinator. It also means that vanilla conservation is a tedious and difficult task. 

Vanilla Plant

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

 

(The history of vanilla, and more about pollination and conservation, can be found here)

Costa Rica has approximately 12 species of vanilla, at least four of which are found around the Osa Conservation’s biological station and adjacent landscapes. Only two species are grown to produce commercial vanilla: V. planifolia and V. madagascariensis. Because the natural pollinators are unknown, pollination is performed by hand, and low levels of genetic diversity are expected in cultivated plants.  

camera trap for vanilla

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

Many Vanilla species are threatened in the wild. Here at Osa Conservation, we want to understand the ecology of wild vanilla, and gain a better understanding of their habitat preference, and reproductive strategies. We want to know where they like to live, who their pollinators are, and who disperses their seeds. This could help us to develop proper conservation strategies, and allow us to test profitability for commercial production in areas such as secondary forests, restoration plots and fruit gardens.

Vanilla pollination

Photo by Ruth Pillco Huarcaya

To do so, we have been using wildlife camera traps to monitor the flowers and beans, and have spent hours directly watching the flowers. So far, a population of Vanilla hartii was found flowering, and after a few long hours of observation and camera trapping, the little Stripe-throated hermit hummingbird was observed visiting their flowers; a potential pollinator or a nectar thief?

Our work will continue until we can really discover the secrets behind wild vanilla in the Osa Peninsula.

Uncategorized

Dung Beetles: More than Meets the Eye

Blog Post by Eleanor Flatt, Biodiversity and Restoration Research Field Assistant and Dung Beetle enthusiast

It is 1 o’clock in the morning, rain is breaking through the forest canopy. It is pitch black, and I am just about to wriggle out of my jungle hammock to check pitfall traps … again. This experience was not due to insanity, but for science. Specifically, my aim is to observe when distinct species of dung beetles are most active to better understand their role in the ecosystem. This task is just part of the research I am carrying out on dung beetles here at Osa Conservation.

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Dung beetle in action

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Dung beetle in action

Dung beetles are very important in terms of ecological function within a tropical forest. They provide waste removal, soil aeration, nutrient cycling and secondary seed dispersal. All dung beetle communities are dynamic, relating to environmental features, habitat type, spatial distribution, dispersal capacities and interspecific interactions. Dung beetles are awesome as an indicator group, as they are super susceptible to changes in their environment. 

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Dung beetle in the Osa peninsula

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Dung beetle in the Osa peninsula

Understanding the dung beetle communities in different forest types can be a useful monitoring tool in reforestation projects. Dung beetles serve as a reference point of forest health and help set what we call a “primary forest baseline” which gives a restoration goal to work towards as we continue our studies.

The research we are conducting helps us to understand how the mechanisms that cause dung beetle diversity to decline are linked to changes in landscape structure and mammal populations. As the demand for palm oil plantations here in Costa Rica grows, this information could be very useful for the conservation of biodiversity, especially here in the mega diverse Osa Peninsula.

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Eleanor Flatt studying dung beetles at Osa Conservation

Photo by Nick Hawkins, Eleanor Flatt studying dung beetles at Osa Conservation

Dung beetles are often overlooked, but they have so much to offer. Not only do they benefit the ecosystem they live in, but they give people like us a better understanding of the effects of the changes we cause.