Environmental Education, Volunteers and Visitors

Changing the world with ‘people power’

By Ted May, General Volunteer

Many environmentally-aware people, including myself, are attracted to Costa Rica because of the awesome biodiversity there. One has opportunity to explore part of a country that houses 5% of the world’s biodiversity in 51,100 km2– mid-way in size between the U.S. state of West Virginia and the European country of Denmark.

Ted May climbing a tree to install an owl box, to create microhabitats to help bird populations.

When I arrived as a volunteer at Osa Conservation this March, I was able to explore part of this area, and—with my limited time and familiarity with “seeing” birds in Costa Rica—I still managed to find more than 135 different bird species.  It was amazing, and delightful in many ways.

But what stands out in my mind the most is the experiences I had with the people at Osa Conservation.  It is incredibly inspiring to see the people power of the many dedicated volunteers, staff and visitors.

Visitors and volunteers assisting with a sunrise patrol with the Sea Turtle Program.

Mariam, Shannon and Dylan teamed up to oversee the Sea Turtle Program. Their dedication is exceptional. Not only do they walk 10-20 km daily (much on the beach), but they also record data to monitor their progress and make exceptional presentations to various publics to help others see not just the beauty of the turtles, but the important roles they play in the global seas (control of sea grass and jellyfish, food source for many others, and so much more).

Marina – who I call the Poison Dart Woman— is conducting research into the fascinating lives of these unique frogs, to help us understand them,and how they can at times serve as barometers to the health of the tropical rainforest ecosystem. Her enthusiasm bubbles over when she shares “her” frogs, excited to be working with fragile and yet widely-recognized critters.

There were many others: Jo from Belgium, the Costa Rican cooks (great local food!), the friendly greeting faces of Lucía and Karla and many other Costa Rican staff.  I also was able to meet some of the visitors there, including an awesome team of people from National Geographic, and some wonderful returning volunteers from varying countries.

Ted May and Andreas Aere collecting fluff from the balsa tree fruit to create beds for orchids.

I was grateful to be able to commit 2.5 weeks of my life helping with various projects in this awesome place. In the process, I learned a lot and was greatly inspired, having met some incredible young people who are investing their lives in our global future – thank you each and all.

So, thank you for allowing me to explore the richness of the Costa Rican diversity; I found it very valuable to be able to interact with a small part of it.  Even more-so, thank you for being able to attract such a rich variety of people there in various roles – people who are working to “change the world” in many ways with Osa Conservation, and who will, I am confident, continue to do so in their lives after Osa.


Citizen science: Osa communities partner with scientists to reveal answers to nature’s mysteries

Blogpost by Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri, Coordinator of the Ecosystem Resilience and Community Outreach Program

Citizen science is the participation of the general public in scientific research activities. Citizens contribute actively, either through active monitoring or with local knowledge of their environment. This different way of doing science contributes to scientific knowledge through the participation of volunteer and trained citizens who are not usually specialists in the subject to be investigated and who contribute to help solve questions raised in scientific studies.

Community Biological Monitoring Group of Rancho Quemado, training with the Healthy Rivers Program at Osa Conservation. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

It is not a new way of doing science. In fact, it has existed for centuries, since the very beginning of science—from the contributions made by astronomers, to the observation of birds in remote parts of the world.

Citizen science projects allow the public, through their own experience, to understand how scientific research is carried out. Participants find that the process of doing science arises from observation and methods for data collection. People are adequately trained in a non-formal setting, contribute to the collection of data, and—if their curiosity catches on—they might even start their own research.

Coati (Nasua narica) photograph taken to be used in the App iNaturalist. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

These meetings of participation constitute an alliance between scientists and the general public, forming a great work team, answering the great questions about Earth’s biodiversity.

With this goal in mind, Osa Conservation is supporting the Community Biological Monitoring Groups formed in the Osa Peninsula. We are sharing experiences with organized groups in the communities of Rancho Quemado, Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre, Los Planes of Drake and the Alto Laguna Indigenous Territory. With these groups, we are working on the collaborative construction of knowledge through the Osa Camera Trap Network, who lead the collection of data and assist in data analysis. At Osa Conservation, we believe that the participation of communities to support the monitoring of spatio-temporal trends of biodiversity has special importance in the fight to prevent and stop the loss of flora and fauna species that are susceptible to small environmental changes.

Showing the children of the Osa Peninsula fauna in danger of extinction. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

The children of the Osa Peninsula have not been left out in this participatory contribution. Year after year, we have been supporting the Christmas Children’s Bird Count, which is a form of social appropriation of science like no other, since the students of schools and colleges become the main actors of this knowledge construction. The key to this initiative is to take science as an attitude and have the ability to marvel and generate questions with the things or situations we face every day. Our children find a magic in the birds and biodiversity that surrounds them. This information helps analyze traces of climate change and observe climatic phenomena, and these are the same students who will live the solutions.

Community Biological Monitoring Group of Rancho Quemado, visiting the Sea Turtle Program at Osa Conservation. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

In support of this effort of Citizen Science, Osa Conservation is promoting the use of global social networks, which are used by people who like to share images of the nature of the region. We are recommending the iNaturalistapplication, a technological tool that connects people with nature to build participatory citizen science, in order to understand the situation populations of our flora and fauna and the changes that affect different ecosystems. If you or members of your community want to be part of this great effort, you can contact us, and support us to create knowledge.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research

Endless forest interactions

Blogpost by Jonathan Navarro Picado, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Whether we perceive it or not, the forest is alive; there is movement, there is disorder, and—most importantly—there are endless interactions. This last word is the key to help make this hidden world clear to our human “worlds,” which are so short and tiny in comparison to the existence of these forests.

When you walk through the old growth and secondary forests of the Osa Verde BioStation (Piro), you can see everythimg from herbs, seedlings and shrubs to gigantic trees hundreds of years old. Commonly seen are a great diversity of birds and insects, and sometimes one can have the good fortune to observe peccaries or to spot a small wild cat.

Epiphytes crawl up the trunk of a mature rainforest tree. Photo: Jonathan Navarro Picado

Now, there are many other things that we cannot witness, either because they occur at scales unimaginable to the human being (at a microscopic level, like bacteria, or in the heights of treetops) or because it would take months or years to notice the patterns of a certain event. One way to notice these small scale changes that happen in the forest is through observing the difference between day and night. In the night, more sounds are heard, even different events or movements are observed.

Observing a higuerón seems impressive to us all, but the interactions are what fascinate biologists: the complexity of their pollination related to certain wasp species, the presence of hemiepiphytes (a plant that stays in another) that present the majority of fig trees (Ficusspp) and how they affect the development and biology of other plant species. In addition, there is a large number of birds that feed on the fruits of Ficus and are also their dispersers. The Fig tree is related to an endless number of animals and events. This is considering only a specific tree; therefore, the amount of interactions in the forest is unimaginable, more taking into account that over time new relationships will appear.

The sad thing about all this is that as you learn more about the complexity of a forest and the interdependence among all its components, when you hear that people are cutting down a forest, extracting endangered species, polluting of rivers, hunting and causing many other environmental problems, you realize that the impact is at the ecosystem level and that recovering the conditions of a forest with all its interactions will take years or even centuries.

Bats residing in the hallowed-out old Ajo tree (Caryocar costarricense). Photo: Elène Haave Audet

When a person for personal and economic interests cuts down a tree that is hundreds of years old and says “there are many other trees” or even plants a new one, perhaps he or she does not know or does not share the great feeling of entering the cave formed at the base of a great old garlic tree (Caryocar costarricense), of feel part of nature itself. More importantly, perhaps he or she does not see the amount of bats that depend on said cave, the facilitation in the dispersal of seeds, the great source of food for so many animals and all the storage of carbon during decades that helps us to be here today delighting in all these interactions.

That’s why I want to be part of those interactions in a positive way, through inducing positive change. As the change from being a Osa Conservation Restoration & Rewilding Field Course student to being the Coordinator of the Healthy Rivers program here, I hope that this challenge helps to conserve many interactions in the veins of our planet.

Jonathan, with fellow students in Restoration & Rewilding Field Course, identify aquatic insects as indicators of healthy river ecosystems. Photo: Hilary Brumberg

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