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The first 24 hours as a volunteer

Blogpost written by Hanae Garrison,  Volunteer

4:30 am – I rise before the sun has woken up and while the nocturnal organisms are still out. I shove some food into my body in preparation of the day ahead. Another volunteer and I are staying at the cabins near the farm, where Osa Conservation grows much of their fresh vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants, and cares for their animals, restoration plots, botanic garden and much more.

5:00 am – After gearing up with our head lamps and day packs, we head out on the main road and walk for 25 minutes to the Biological Station. The stars shine through the trees and the hum of insects is more noticeable. Cars occasionally roll by with people starting their day before the sun’s heat gets too hot.

5:30 am – We meet up with Manuel Sánchez, the Sea Turtle Conservation Program Coordinator.  We hike through the woods as the sun begins to rise. He shows us a taste of what he does every morning to aid the survival of 4 species of endangered sea turtles – Olive Ridley, Green Sea Turtles, Leatherback, and Hawksbill (with the Olive Ridley and Green Sea Turtles being most common in the Osa). We look for threatened sea turtle nests along the beach and, when needed, the team will help excavate and transport the eggs to a protected hatchery, away from predators and poachers. When the time comes many weeks later, the baby turtles are released on the beach with enough distance to imprint on the sand while making their way to the waves, helping ensure their return to this same beach as adults.

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The hatchery allows sea turtle nests to incubate safely, without the risk of predation or poachers.

6:45 am – We release two Olive Ridley nests containing around 100 turtles. All of them safely reach the waves, some faster than others. Crossing the open beach is often the most difficult part of the turtles’ journey.  With this relocation and careful release, we help provide a safe passage for the tiny turtles across the beach and increase their chances of survival. In the wild, it’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 makes it to adulthood. As the waves crash onto the shore and sweep the sea turtles into the water, you can see their tiny black heads bouncing up and down and then diving down under the current.

 

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Baby sea turtles imprint on the sand while they make their way into the ocean

8:00 am – We make it back to the biological station and fill up on some beans and rice, a staple in our diet.

11:00 am – I spot some leaf cutter ants working away carrying their characteristic green pieces of leaves, sometimes as much as three times its weight. One after another, they move along, wearing away the grass and carving unbelievable paths along the forest floor.

12:00 pm – We eat a much-needed delicious meal of rice, beans, salad, banana chips and a glass of fresh lemonade.

1:00 pm – I head out on a trail with Sam to conduct field research on spider monkeys and their “latrine sites.”. We hike for about 40 minutes until we reach a turn in the path under a large tree. Spider monkeys prefer to sleep in trees with interlocking branches near their feeding trees and choose one spot where they all excrete their waste, also known as a “latrine site.” All day, they jump around from tree to tree, snacking on fruit. As a result, we can tell the diet of the spider monkey by going through their waste. The spider monkeys, thus, become primary seed dispersers and the “latrine site” can be identified by many tree saplings growing in one area.

 

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Researchers can determine the diet and ecological role of spider monkeys by examining what grows at the “latrine sites.”

2:00 pm – Our task was to observe the spider monkey poop and notice if ants appeared – which in theory, should attract poison dart frogs. Although field biology can seem repetitive and boring at times, it is extremely rewarding when you find what you’re looking for after patiently waiting. Great to see your work pay off!  As we sit there taking notes, I listen to the sounds around me and start to notice small things in the forest. A dung beetle crawls by, proudly rolling his perfect spherical ball of monkey poop. The beetles are a lot smaller than I had imagined but the impact they have on the forest as secondary seed dispersers is extraordinary!

3:45 pm – A howler monkey starts to howl near us. Sam tells me that howlers howl for only a few reasons: As a “wake-up call,” an “I’m going to sleep” howl, a “territorial” scream, and an “I’m wet and mad about it so I’m going to complain” cry. By this time, the rain had started coming down. We hadn’t felt it much before because the trees had caught most of it. But soon it got darker out and the rain got stronger. so we headed back.

The rest of the evening was composed of relaxing, showering, preparing and eating dinner, and getting to bed early for an early morning. The cold refreshing shower was definitely a highlight of my day along with the fresh pineapple with dinner.