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Our New Collaboration with NASA DEVELOP

Blog Post by Hilary Brumberg, Rios Saludables Program Coordinator

Osa Land Cover Maps from 1987 to 2017.

Osa Land Cover Maps from 1987 to 2017.

 

Good news for Osa’s forests and wildlife! Over the past 30 years, the Osa has seen an 11% increase in vegetation and a decrease in grassland.

This year, Osa Conservation started an exciting new partnership with NASA DEVELOP and the University of Georgia (UGA). NASA DEVELOP partners with local organizations to apply NASA Earth observations to address environmental issues around the globe. Through this partnership, we gained insight regarding land use and vegetation changes and threats to watershed health in the Osa between 1987-2017. 

The results from this collaboration indicate policy and conservation efforts over the past few decades have had tangible impacts on Osa’s landscape and wildlife. From 1987-1999, Osa’s forest cover decreased 11%. However, from 1999-2017, forest cover increased 24%, which coincides with the installment of the national Payment for Environmental Services program. 

Nearly all of this new forest was originally palm and grassland.  Of the land covered in palm in 1987, 37% was converted into forests by 2017, and 49% of grassland in 1987 became forest by 2017.  High rates of conversion of grassland to forest also coincide with economic and consumption trends, relating to the fall of the economic value of beef in the 1990s. While natural palm and oil palm plantations are not distinguished in these analyses, we will be further investigating them in upcoming projects to discern trends in oil palm agriculture.

Preliminary Results of the Normalized Difference in the Vegetation Index (NDVI) - NASA-DEVELOP

Preliminary Results of the Normalized Difference in the Vegetation Index (NDVI) – NASA-DEVELOP

 

Time series analysis also indicates that the northern Osa is the most degraded area of the region and has seen the largest land use change. This northern corridor isolates the Osa from mainland Costa Rica, thus reducing ecosystem connectivity and wildlife ability to travel across the country. These maps will help Osa Conservation investigate potential biological corridors in the region, through the Osa Camera Trap Network and our Restoration and Rewilding projects.

Osa Conservation’s programs each tackle a different angle to conserve Osa’s incredible ecosystems and wildlife, which are threatened by deforestation, agricultural pollution, resource extraction, and human settlement. This is no small task and requires many boots on the ground.  Thanks to NASA Earth observations, we now have forest eyes from above, helping us address conservation issues on a larger scale across the Osa.  We can use these results to target and amplify the impact of our conservation efforts in the field, such as our Rios Saludables water quality monitoring, tracking mammal diversity with the Camera Trap Network, and identifying suitable habitat for birds and amphibians.  

I’m looking forward to launching into a second term working with NASA DEVELOP and UGA to highlight the rivers at risk and determine the health of Osa’s mangroves. Stay tuned over the summer to learn what we find out!

Learn more here!

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In Light of Earth Day

Blog Post by Amaris Norwood, Intern in our DC Office

A Couple of Purple Passion Flowers; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Couple of Purple Passion Flowers; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

It’s Almost Earth Day!

As Earth Day approaches, we can take this time to reflect on the current environmental state of the planet.  From habitat loss to climate change, from poaching to illegal animal trade. Over recent years, we have seen species decline.  At the same time, we’ve seen habitats and species regenerate. Marine restoration, reforestation, and other conservation and preservation efforts are to thank for this.  At times, we’ve even been fortunate enough to discover new species.  

A Serene Sloth Sleeping in a Tree; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Serene Sloth Sleeping in a Tree; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

In knowing that the natural world experiences both regression and progression, we can examine the current threats that the planet is facing while learning how and why certain areas have recovered or remained successful.  By staying in tune with current environmental events, whether positive or negative, we can strategize for the future. While understanding how and why certain areas experience success, we can apply this knowledge when finding solutions for struggling areas.

What Can We Do?

There are several approaches individuals, communities, institutions, and governments take when celebrating successes and managing environmental issues.  Some choose more focused, local approaches, where others expand their mission across borders.  When choosing an approach, we must decide how to pave our courses of action.  In my studies, I’ve repeatedly found how the most successful projects incorporate well-rounded knowledge of the issue at hand.  The question that remains is how can we, or a group or an institution of some sort, expand our knowledge on specific ecological issues?

A Puma Gazing Towards the Tree Tops

A Puma Gazing Towards the Tree Tops; Photo taken by Manuel Sanchez

A simple way is staying updated with news reports and further comparing the current environmental state with that of the past.  Other ways include becoming involved in conservation or other environmental quality projects.  Volunteering or other hands-on learning opportunities, for example, provide more immersive educational experiences.  Furthermore, hearing and learning about the perspectives of people living in areas that face or have faced environmental threats is invaluable.  First-hand accounts are crucial for a well-rounded understanding of the current state of the environment.

What’s Happening at Osa Conservation?

In my time at Osa Conservation (OC), I’ve learned how the organization works to educate people, whether through on-site volunteering opportunities or through updating social media followers and subscribers on various environmental successes and projects.  But something I consistently see as a factor in all of OC’s projects is a collaboration with different fields and groups of people.  

A Released Baby Sea Turtle Reaching the Shore; Photo by Frank Uhlig

A Released Baby Sea Turtle Reaching the Shore; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Osa Conservation works with local communities to increase the organization’s understanding of issues the Osa Peninsula faces, as well to properly educate people about these issues.  Furthermore, the organization wouldn’t be able to achieve its conservation successes without its volunteers.  OC’s volunteers, visitors, and research assistants help carry out the organization’s mission and goals by working with projects at the biological station. 

A Green Lizard Lurking on a Branch; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

A Green Lizard Lurking on a Plant; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Because of these efforts, Osa Conservation can say that within the last year, they’ve planted over 40,000 native trees, helped release 14,700 baby sea turtles, dedicated 46,000 hours towards river education, and are leading one of the largest camera trap networks in Central America.   Though combatting environmental issues can seem intimidating, especially for an individual, we must remember how success cases have triumphed over threats.  As seen above, staying educated on environmental issues, spreading knowledge about these issues, and collaborating with others are the key factors in environmental accomplishments.  If we keep this in mind this Earth Day, and for the rest of the year, we can continue moving forward toward a more environmentally-conscious and preserved world. 

If you feel like getting involved now, consider donating to OC’s causes or joining our workers and volunteers down in the Osa Peninsula!

A Beach in the Osa during Sunset; Photo by Frank Uhlig

A Beach in the Osa during Sunset; Photo by Frank Uhlig

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Journals from Sea Turtle Volunteering

Blog Post by Yoshinari Fukuzawa from Middlebury College

Sunny day on the beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Sunny Day on the Beach at Osa; Photo by Frank Uhlig

Journal 1: The sea turtle eggs were so soft, so delicate.  While we knelt on the warm sand and reached deep into the hole we dug, our hands gently searched for the surface of the eggs.  Once found, we took each out, one by one, clasping the soft shells that individually held a life inside.  Although frightened we might break an egg, we felt thrilled once our fingers came upon the smooth surfaces.  “Mother’s touch,” one of us spoke out, which referenced our roles as a group.  That morning on the beach, we were the mothers of the baby sea turtles.  We were removing them from danger and relocating them to safety.  We were their caregivers.

sea turtle egg

Volunteers Searching for Sea Turtle Eggs

However, as we looked east, we saw a coati breaking into another sea turtle nest and eating the eggs inside.  Seeing the animal, our guide told us that we unfortunately couldn’t save the nest.  Even as caregivers, we have our limits.  We could not fend off every animal that preys on sea turtle eggs. Regardless, that experience gave us motivation to do better and try harder while working with Osa.

turtle-hatchling-copy

Cluster of Baby Sea Turtles Before Venturing into the Ocean

Journal 2: On Friday, we rolled out of the bed at five in the morning and slowly made our way to the beach with our guide and another group.  Taking off our boots and flip flops, we entered the hatchery and walked toward the protected nests containing baby sea turtles. “Olive Ridley species,” our guide told us.  After this brief introduction to the species, we got down to business.  Taking turns, we took the sea turtles out of their nests and placed them into a bucket.

Throughout this process, the sea turtles were scrambling and climbing on top of each other and faced toward the ocean, eager to start their journey into the crashing waves.  Once we placed the last turtle in the bucket, we left the hatchery and headed toward the shore.  A bird cawed above us on a tree.  We took the baby turtles out one by one, hoping that predators would not come swooping down.  Once we placed them on the warm sand, the energetic turtles started making a beeline into the blue water.

The ocean started to tease them by engulfing them but not carrying them along with the tide.  After the sea turtles stroked their flippers a few more times, the waves crashed and covered them once again.  However, this time, the turtles were taken into the water.  We stood behind the crawling little creatures, keeping watch until the last one was finally welcomed by the blue-green sea.  We could then say that we safely sent the sea turtles on their way to their home, the ocean.  I wonder how many of them will survive into adulthood and create more sea turtles to continue the cycle.

3.4.4_Sea Turtles_Roy_Toft

A Baby Sea Turtle About to Begin Its Great Adventure

The sun was shining brightly in the sky and the waves crashed loudly onto the soft sands of the beach.  From there I, along with my group, walked back to the station with the sound of the ocean following us.  I hope for the best for the baby sea turtles as they embark on their new adventure.

 

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Immersion

Blog Post by Sarah Karerat from Middlebury College

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The beach during sunset at Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

While spending our first night in our cabina at Osa, I awoke in the middle of the night to the noises that surrounded us.  The howler monkeys were screeching, rain was pouring, and I could hear insects and the Pacific Ocean crashing against the coast. I remember thinking that I may as well be sleeping outside.  During my stay, I truly felt like there was no barrier between me and the outdoors.  It felt incredible. What I experienced that night and every other night was total immersion, a term that I think applies to every moment I spent in the Osa.

On our very first day, we put on our rubber boots and ventured out to the trails. With staff member Rachel, we learned about the biodiversity that surrounded us.  On another day, we walked in the humid heat through the fields of balsa trees.  Here, we identified birds in the area for rewilding research.  Then on Monday and Thursday, we helped out at Osa’s sustainable farm with tasks like husking corn for the animals and flipping the soil.  Our work was a small way we contributed to its massive conservation efforts.

hummingbird-osa

Hummingbird overlooking the dense forest of the Osa; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

 

One of Osa's nature trails through the forest; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

One of Osa’s nature trails; Photo by Manuel Sanchez

None of this was immersion without a purpose.  With every activity came a dedicated, in-depth explanation from a staff member of why these tasks and projects mattered.  We were aware of how every action carried the weight of impact, specifically on conservation efforts.  I am grateful for the patience and care of the staff members who took the time to explain their work to nine college students from various walks of life.

Though we had only a week at Osa Conservation, it was enough time to feel immersed in the heart of the organization.  Our knowledge expanded exponentially in so many directions.  We learned about biodiversity, conservation, ethical community service models, the inner workings of a nonprofit, Costa Rican culture, and more. Not only did we learn, but we also lived immersed in the pura vida lifestyle. We swam in the river during breaks, experienced the patience and flexibility of the staff, and ate delicious central American food for each meal.

When arriving at the remote Osa Peninsula, I was unsure of what to expect.  What could the team and I even achieve in one week?  Luckily, Osa Conservation threw us into the thick of the organization, culture, and environment, which pushed me intellectually and physically.  I will continue to think about the unique ways in which it challenged me to grow.

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