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Manuel, the sea turtle guardian.

Interview by Alejandra Rojas, Naturalist Guide and Avian Program Coordinator

img_8203Holding either his camera and backpack, or plastic buckets filled with sand after releasing baby sea turtles, a young guy approaches the biological station from the trail where the rainforest meets the sea. It is Manuel Sánchez, Osa Conservation´s Sea Turtle Program coordinator.

He was 5 years old when he saw a sea turtle for the first time. A fishing night with his father Miguel became an adventure when they discovered the tracks of a green sea turtle, which they followed to a nesting female laying her eggs. “That is why I love green sea turtles so much;  that was my first encounter with a sea turtle” he affirms. That encounter was in the sector 20 of Piro beach – the same beach he has been patrolling for the past 14 years since he started working for Osa Conservation.

Native to the Osa Peninsula and the only staff member whose own house is located in Piro, Manuel started his work with sea turtles with his father by building a hatchery and relocating the nests to protect them from poachers. Then he continued as a field assistant in Carate, a nearby town, where he was discovered by Osa Conservation. After working as a research field assistant for some years, he was offered the position of Sea Turtle Program Coordinator with Osa Conservation to monitor and conserve the sea turtles that visit both the Piro and Pejeperro beaches.

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The three biggest threats that sea turtles face worldwide are ocean pollution, egg poaching and incidental captures by a fishing practice called long lining. The beaches in the Osa Peninsula are visited primarily by two species of nesting turtles: olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). For Manuel, the most exciting moment of 2016 was finding four hawksbill sea turtle nests.  And so far in 2017, he has already found a leatherback sea turtle nest and relocated the eggs to the hatchery!  Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are only occasional visitors to the Osa, which explains his excitement (all four species of sea turtles are critically endangered!). And, he is excited to report that last year 17,000 baby turtles were released, with a hatching success rate of 88.85%.

But Manuel´s mission sometimes turns complicated: “The hardest part of this work is to see how your effort is destroyed in seconds by poachers. It is not something that discourages me from doing my job, but it is frustrating. You can spend a lot of hours building a hatchery, or patrolling the beach to safely relocate the eggs, and the next morning you discover the destruction of the hatchery and all the eggs gone.”

His favorite thing about working with sea turtles is knowing that he is helping endangered species thrive in the Osa. Patrolling the beach at night is also one of his favorite things. He says,”It is amazing when you walk along the beach with the stars at night.”

Manuel is also a passionate naturalist. Anyone who has met him can attest to his knowledge and passion for nature. It is a passion that he likes to share with his younger brother and niece who often accompany him hiking, birding, patrolling on the beach or chatting with station staff.

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As he has been working in the field for so many years, he can personally relate the physical changes of the beach: “The ocean level has changed and the temperature has risen significantly in the last two years. High temperatures are one of the leading causes of egg loss in the nests on our beach.” But he can also note some anthropological changes, for instance the decline in egg poaching. “It continues to be a problem, but I do not see as many egg poachers as in the past.”

People like Manuel are a clear example of environmental progress in Costa Rica and in the Osa. In just two generations, many  have been able to build livelihoods working directly in the conservation economy and in sustainable tourism. This is a huge step forward compared to just two generations ago when many locals resorted to logging the rainforests and hunting jaguars for their economic benefits. With an increase in conservation-oriented tourism and priorities in the region, it is hopeful that the impact will continue to increasingly provide the opportunities to nurture the local naturalists and conservation leaders, like Manuel, in the Osa.

fullsizerenderIn the upcoming months, the Sea Turtle Program is expecting construction of a new camp base for the turtle volunteers, a new hatchery, an increase in the number of volunteers and the first leatherback hatchlings in a long time (as the eggs were relocated this past month).

When asked about how he imagines the future of the sea turtles in the Osa, he replies: “One of the thoughts that is always on my mind during all these years working with sea turtles is that I want people to keep working for conservation, as an example for the younger generations. I do not know if it is going to be me, or my successor, but this program needs to continue.  I think education is our main weapon against poaching; if we do not give sea turtles a hand, they can disappear very fast. Sea turtles are in a critical moment and they definitely need our help.”

If you want to support Manuel`s work in the Osa, you can contribute with a donation for the program or by visiting Osa Conservation or volunteering with us.  Trust me, releasing a baby sea turtle is a once in a lifetime experience!

 

Aquatic Health, Marine Conservation

Aquaculture: A Sustainable Solution to the Global Seafood Crisis?

By: Clara Gomez

The world’s seafood stocks will have completely collapsed by the year 2050, scientists say.  According to a study done by a group of economists and ecologists, the growth of the human population combined with unsustainable fishing practices and the devastating loss of biodiversity will lead to the collapse of fish populations in the next 35 years, if trends continue on their current path.

If the idea of losing all of the world’s fish scares you as much as it scares me, then you’re wondering how we disrupt the current “trend” of unsustainable overfishing.  One option is through the use of aquaculture.  Aquaculture, also known as fish or shellfish farming refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean.  

Although the global community is just beginning to think of aquaculture as a potential solution to the dilemma of depleted oceans, the fact is that it’s not a new practice. In fact, although historians say that the cradle of aquaculture existed in China 4,000 years ago, recent archaeological evidence (2003) suggests that the Gunditjmara tribe of Australia already had a system to raise and cultivate eels in in the southeast of the country 8,000 years ago.  The system was so efficient (after being designed as an alternative method for procuring food) that traditional practices remained stable throughout history!! Or at least not until Stephan Ludwig Jacobi appeared on the scene, at some point in the early XVIII century.

Thanks to Jacobi and his article ‘Von der künstlichen Erzeugung der Forellen und Lachse’, aquaculture became a part of mainstream science due to the success based off of his experiments in the external fertilization of trout and salmon. Not only in terms of self-sustainability, but also of commerce at an industrial level. From then on all manner of projects and investments began, and thus was born the second generation of aquaculture─ the modern aquaculture we all know today, and which is currently reinventing itself to adapt to a society increasingly aware of its impact on the environment.

Part of this shift in the way aquaculture utilized is the utilization of what’s called Integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture.  While it sounds complicated, it’s an idea that involves the raising of diverse organisms within the same farming system, where each species utilizes a distinct niche and distinct resources within the farming complex.  This allows the fish to be raised in a much more biodiverse, nature-like setting. Additionally, this system utilizes a circular economy–the idea that the waste from one product serves as nutrients for another.  So, raising plants and fish together both cuts down on cost and waste. This current of change, in conjunction with the holistic approach that Osa Conservation has in regards to conservation, is what prompted the organization to plan the future fusion between a multi-trophic aquaculture project (still in development), and its already successful sustainable agriculture program. A large number of scientific publications (many published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) support these projects, and the tropical climate of Costa Rica is perfect for local breeding of sea creatures.  What’s the harm in trying?aquaculture, circular economy

If successful, this new project of integrated, multi trophic aquaculture would be extremely beneficial in the following three areas:

Ecology:

The integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system mimics the relationships among organisms in the natural world (not just by raising aquatic organisms and terrestrial plants together, but also by using one organism’s waste as input for others).  It also ensures both the optimal use of resources and the reduction of water pollution and eutrophication levels.

Economy:

This new and improved system of aquaculture represents a positive step towards the self-sufficiency of Osa Conservation, and as such also represents a reduction of costs in terms of food imports from San Jose. Likewise, the implementation of a new food cultivation system could mean new employment opportunities for locals.

Pedagogy:

Not only is the integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture system is easy to understand, but it has the potential  to include human waste as part of its cycle. That means that both the system’s facilities (eg tanks external fertilization, duck ponds, rice fields, etc) as food produced through it (eg shrimp species, and native fish) have potential to serve as educational material for both the local community and visitors of Osa. What better way is there to learn about aquaculture, than to see how everything works and then personally taste the final product?  Adopting a system of aquaculture in the Osa will allow OC to expand upon its teaching capacity and further embody its own standards of sustainability.  

 

Sources

1.“Aborigines may have farmed eels, built huts” ABC Science Australia:http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s806276.htm

2.“Analysis of the Aquaculture Market in the Costa Rican Metropolitan Area. Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (2010): https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-121410-115309/unrestricted/Analysis_of_the_Aquaculture_Market_in_the_Costa_Rican_Metropolitan_Area.pdf

  1. “At a Crossroads: Will Aquaculture Fulfill thePromise of the Blue Revolution?” (SeaWeb Aquaculture Clearinghouse report, PDF): http://www.seaweb.org/resources/documents/reports_crossroads.pdf
  2. “Biomass Accumulation and Water Purification of Water Spinach Planted on Water Surface by Floating Beds for Treating Biogas Slurry”Journal of Environmental Protection (2013, PDF): http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JEP_2013111911133739.pdf

5.“Contribución de la pesca y la acuicultura a la seguridad alimentaria y el ingreso familiar en Centroamérica” Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación — FAO  (2014,PDF): http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3757s.pdf

6.“Culture of Fish in Rice Fields” (FAO, WorldFish Center. 2014) PDF:http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/a0823e/a0823e.pdf

7.“History of Agriculture” FAO Corporate Document Repository. http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/009/ag158e/AG158E01.htm

  1. FAO “Animal-Fish Systems: Integrated Fish-duck farming”

    http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/Y1187E/y1187e14.htm

9.“Food from the sea. Remarkable results of the experiments in cod and lobster,(Pittsburgh Dispatch. aquaculture, 1890): https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3798097/food_from_the_sea_remarkable_results/

  1. Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture: What it is, and why you should care…..

and don’t confuse it with polyculture. (2006, PDF): http://www2.unb.ca/chopinlab/articles/files/Northern%20Aquaculture%20IMTA%20July%2006.pdf

11.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Atmenistration (NOAA): http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/what_is_aquaculture.html

  1. All Seafood Will Run Out in 2050, scientists Say (Charles Clover, 2006)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1533125/All-seafood-will-run-out-in-2050-say-scientists.html

Uncategorized

Nature’s Waterpark! Exploring Osa’s watershed with students

We have the best staffers at our stations! They really go above and beyond to involve themselves in the environment and to inspire others to do the same. Osa Conseravation enables high schools, universities and school groups to learn, hands-on, in our field courses. Students get an amazing chance to actively learn important lessons with dedicated researchers in the paradise that is Costa Rica! Read below for the unique perspective of an OC Resarch Field Assistant leading these educational excursions.

One of the greatest pleasures of working at Osa Conservation is being able to inspire the young school groups that visit.  Students from all overcome to Osa to learn about environmental science and conservation, and there is no better way to learn about these things than through hands-on methods in the field.  Osa Conservation provides these students the opportunity to do just that.

IMG Watershed students

We conduct workshops with the students, providing them with the necessary background information about the different systems we have here in the Osa.  We teach them sampling methods and teach them theories and principles to allow them to form their own conclusions using the data they collect.

One such system that we extensively study here are the different watersheds in the peninsula.  Before heading into the field, I give a presentation in the lab on the different variables we measure to determine water quality and overall watershed health.  We go over the appropriate methods and discuss why watersheds are important and the broader impacts they have on the ecosystem as a whole and to humans who drink this water.

Then we head into the field. After strapping on our boots, we tromp through the jungle to a nearby river.  Here, the students get the chance physically implement the methods we discussed in the lab, measuring variables such as the amount of dissolved oxygen in the river, the pH of the river, and the amount of suspended solids in the water.  After measuring the chemical and physical properties of the river, we do a macro-invertebrate survey.  These animals are used as bio-indicators of the quality of the water as certain species can only survive in certain quality of water. It is by far the students’ favorite part.

Exploring Osa's watershed

I pass out sieves and nets and the students are unleashed into the river to sample all the micro-habitats within the river to catch as many macro-invertebrates as they can.  They excitedly exclaim “I’ve got something! What is it?  It’s jumping!”  We collect all the samples in buckets, physically  sitting in the river as we do so, and go through and identify their findings.  Throwing back the non-invertebrates, like tadpoles and fish, we keep the snails, shrimp, and insects like dragonfly, caddisfly, stonefly, beetle, and mayfly larvae.  The presence and absence of certain species then indicates the health of the river ecosystem and the quality of the water.   By the end, we’re all soaked from head to toe, but the students are always reluctant to go back to the station.

Through these workshops, they learn valuable field methods, but mostly, they gain a deep appreciation for nature, the interconnectivity of different ecosystems, and the impact humans have on them.  Though not all of the students want to become conservationists or scientists when they get older, by giving the kids an opportunity to interact with an environment they would otherwise not have access to, we are inspiring the generation by educating them about these crucial issues.

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

A Night with Bats

Bats. These nocturnal creatures tend to get a bad rap. Associated for centuries with mythical creatures of the night, and used as Halloween decorations to add eeriness to a haunted house, the real life mammal often gets overlooked. OC aims to change that by collaborating with experts and educating the public on the crucial role bats play in restoration.

Recently, Osa Conservation was honored with a visit from 2 remarkable scientists in the bat world: Cullen Geiselman, bat biologist and board member of Bat Conservation International & Gloriana Chaverri, a University of Costa Rica professor and respected bat biologist who conducts ongoing research at OC’s properties.

Chaverri and Geiselman visited Osa Conservation to brainstorm with OC on how we can help make people aware of how crucial this magnificent animal is to the Osa and the myriad ecosystems they inhabit.

Along with OC Science & Education Director, Jim Palmer, they explored Chaverri’s research sites and visited Osa Conservation’s newest property, Osa Verde. Osa Verde will, among other things, be the site of experimental restoration plots where researchers and students will study the process of forest succession in the Osa to help improve reforestation efforts. (For more information, please visit http://osaconservation.org/visit-the-osa/volunteer/tropical-reforestation/). This site will be important for bat research and conservation efforts as we study their impact on regeneration through seed dispersal and monitor their presence in strategically placed bat boxes.

One night of the visit, under the cover of the dense canopy and the starry Costa Rican sky, these expert bat wranglers set up mist nets to capture and study bats. Volunteers and visitors watched in awe as they collected data on the bats and released them.

It was a fun, successful visit. OC staff and station visitors learned a lot from hearing about the work of Geiselman and Chaverri and taking part in an evening of mist netting. We all gained a great appreciation for these cute mammals and OC looks forward to sharing this information and spreading the message! Bats rock!

Fast Facts About Bats!

  • Bats eat bugs! In the U.S. bats are estimated to be worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.
  • Bats are important pollinators! Some of the commercial products that bats help provide include: bananas, peaches, cloves, carob, and agave.
  • Bats play a key role in reforestation! Fruit-eating bats help repopulate tropical forests by dispersing the seeds of fruiting trees over wide areas. Bats are important seed dispersers for avocados, dates, figs, and cashews – to name a few.

Source: Bat Conservation International

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Environmental Festivals in the Osa

World Environment Day, 2nd Anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

In early June, we had three important celebrations: World Environment Day, the 2nd anniversary of the Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum and the inauguration of the Centenary Forest.

World Environment Day was celebrated in early June, and had participation from diverse groups of people. We had students from various educational centers participate as well as people from organizations and businesses with various fields of focus, like mangroves in the case of Fundación Neotrópica, sea turtles in the case of LAST (Latin American Sea Turtles) and sustainable forest plantations in the case of LACT. The support and participation of local farmers and artisans with the exhibition and sale of their products topped off a great turnout.

Furthermore, this y11011808_442506935917583_1591210675148998070_near we celebrated two important events in forest culture. First, the second anniversary of the Luis Jorge Poveda Álvarez Arboretum was on June 14. This museum of trees on the Osa Peninsula includes emblematic and threatened species like the ajo negro (Anthodiscus chocoensis), the camíbar (Copaifera aromatica), the nazareno or purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea Pittier), the cristóbal (Platymiscium pinnatum) and the breadnut or Maya nut (Brosimum alicastrum).

Lastly, on June 15 was the inauguration of the Centenary Forest. This day pays homage to the 100 years of the institutionalization of National Tree Day by President Alfredo González Flores, and also to honor the people and institutions that have worked toward the conservation of the forests like Don Álvaro Ugalde, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwach. This has been and initiative of the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, as a strategy to promote forest culture in the communities of the Osa and to promote an appreciation for the forests and their ecosystem services.

Celebrations like these are crucial to community outreach, especially to the younger generations. By celebrating how far we’ve come and our accomplishments in conservation, we get people excited about nature and inspire more action to protect it in the future!

Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frogs

Submitted by Steven Waldron; Seattle, WA

Twenty years ago, I backpacked and hiked along the wild beaches and coastal rainforests of the Osa peninsula and became acquainted with some of the fantastic wildlife that the region is well-known for. Near the Sirena station at Corcovado National Park, I became intimate with the loud squawks of Scarlet Macaws sailing overhead, the crash of surprised tapirs bolting through the forest, and the pre-dawn chorus of Howler monkeys. One of the sensory aspects I appreciate most about exploring this region is the rich array of sounds that greets the rainforest naturalist. The forests of the Osa are alive with every kind of exotic screech, hoot, cry, whistle and howl. However, there was one voice that alluded me during that first trip many years ago; that of a little poison dart frog unique to the region, Phyllobates vittatus, the Golfo Dulce poison dart frog. Though the call of Phyllobates vittatus was certainly in the mix of the rainforest cacophony that greeted me back then, I just didn’t know how to identify it and discover its secrets within the complex mystery of the jungle matrix. On a recent trip to the Cabo Matapalo region, I was focused on encountering this beautiful red/black/green jewel of a frog and to document some of its natural history and beauty in photos.

From my research, I knew that Phyllobates vittatus is endemic to southwestern Costa Rica and found from Domincal in the north to (likely) the Boruca peninsula in the south. Due to its limited distribution, P. vittatus is listed by the IUCN as an endangered species. P. vittatus is known to inhabit primary forest microhabitats near streams; it’s diurnal and dwells in the leaf litter of the forest understory. Phyllobates vittatus is one of the true poison dart frogs with another sister species found in the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and Panama (Phyllobates lugubris) and three other known relative species in the Chocó rainforest of Colombia (Phyllobates aurotaenia, Phyllobates bicolor and Phyllobates terribilis). The evolutionary links to the Chocó appear to be a common theme in Osa natural history.

19881843978_7859cdbac4_oDuring our first day in the Matapalo forest, my wife and I went for a late afternoon walk along a perennial creek with a rocky stream bed covered in fallen leaves. It seemed like the ideal habitat for Phyllobates vitiates, and it was! My wife found our first Phyllobates vittatus hanging out in a sheltered spot below a fallen log. Interestingly, I found this very frog in the same spot during my informal surveys over the course of the next week. P. vittatus appears to be fairly territorial in its habits. As the night was approaching quickly, my wife and I decided to resume our Phyllobates search for the following morning. A few hours after the next dawn, we were rewarded with the discovery of several vocalizing males singing from the creek banks. Luckily, I was able to photograph the frogs in their microhabitat and witnessed several courting male/female pairs.

Despite their toxic nature and bold coloration, P. vittatus is a fairly shy frog that is more often heard than seen. Once you learn the song of this frog, you realize that they are locally abundant in the Osa forests. However, the calling males will usually quickly fall silent and retreat into rock crevices or leaf litter when they feel threatened or discovered. Without this interruption, the typical reproduction process would proceed as follow:

The male P. vittatus serenades the female as she looks on. If all goes well, and both parties are mutually interested, the pair will retire to a sheltered spot in the fallen leaves where they will lay 7 to 21 eggs. The eggs will hatch in a couple of weeks; during that time period the male will periodically return to the developing embryos and moisten them with water shed from a specialized patch of vascularized tissue on his posterior. When the tadpoles hatch, they will then be visited by their father, climb onto his back and he will hop off into the forest to find a small pool of water for them to complete their development into little frogs some forty-five days later.

As our days of birding, botanizing and frogging unfolded during our relaxing week in Cabo Matapalo, the song of Phyllobates vittatus was a constant companion as it greeted us cheerfully from nearly every creek, spring and stream bed along the forest trails we visited. I came to look forward to hearing it as much as I enjoyed the raucous call of the macaws, the screech of the parakeets, the complaints of monkeys and the crashing of waves along the wild beaches. I realized that Phyllobates vittatus presence in these forests is a small but critical voice in the rich tapestry of biodiversity that gives southwestern Costa Rica its unique and charming character.

Environmental Education, Science and Research, Volunteers and Visitors

Bats Abound!

The Magnificent Gleaning Phyllostomines of the Osa

Submitted by : Doris Audet and Elène Haave Audet, University of Alberta, Canada

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Among the rich bat fauna to call Osa Conservation home, a select group speaks to the pristine nature of its old-growth forest: the gleaning phyllostomines.  These large-eared members of the highly diverse leaf-nosed bat family favour habitats of high ecological integrity that include mature forests and undisturbed riparian corridors.

They kindly allowed us to take before going on with their lives.

They kindly allowed us to take their photos before going on with their lives.

Phyllostomines are typically found in low abundance throughout their ranges, however since we started surveying the bat fauna around the Piro Biological Station in 2012, eight of the 33 bat species that we identified belong to this special group. This represents about half of the phyllostomines species expected to inhabit the lowlands of the Osa Peninsula.

 

 

Phyllostomines are primarily insectivorous, and their unusual manoeuvrability allows them to forage within the forest understory, either gleaning their prey from the vegetation or catching them in flight. Some of the larger species, such as the frog-eating bat (Trachops cirrhosus), also include vertebrates in their diet.  Their large, sensitive ears allow them to eavesdrop upon the mating calls of frogs and insects. The similar sized white-throated round-eared bat (Lophostoma silvicolum) has the peculiar habit of roosting in live termite nests, making it one of the rare bat species known to dig out its own shelters.

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Striped-headed round-eared bat

 

The striped-headed round-eared bat (Tonatia saurophila) (shown right), like many other phyllostomine species, occurs in low abundance and is relatively rare throughout its range.  Consequently, we have much to learn about their lives in the wild.

 

 

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Common big-eared bat

The smallest of them all (shown left), at around 5 g, is the common big-eared bat (Micronycteris microtis). As its name suggests, it is among the more frequently encountered bats of this group;  nevertheless, it is unlikely to appear in highly disturbed habitats. Common big-eared bats are known to include fruit in their diet, as is probably the case for many other more secretive phyllostomines.

 

The star of our bat encounters at Osa, the woolly false vampire (Chrotopterus auritus) (shown below), is the second largest bat species in the New World, with a wingspan of over half a meter.  Ten times the weight of the common big-eared bat, it is one of the top nocturnal predators.

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Woolly false vampire bat

 

The presence of diverse phyllostomines in Osa’s old growth areas is good news for the outcome of forest restoration, as they will provide the source populations necessary to re-colonize restored areas as they become suitable. On each of our visits to the Osa, at least one additional phyllostomine species revealed its presence, and we are eager to continue discovering what bats call this forest home!

Community Outreach, Environmental Education, Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Yoga and Conservation: a pair meant to be

When I came to a yoga retreat in the wilds of Costa Rica, I had no idea one of the best memories I’d take home at week’s end would center around turtles–tiny baby ones, all girls.

But when Manuel Mendoza of Osa Conservation visited Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa to tell us about the work he and his team of volunteers do to protect these magnificent, highly endangered creatures, I couldn’t believe how paramount the need was, and was excited to become involved.

I dragged myself out of bed the next morning at 5:30 am–quite an accomplishment as rain pelted the metal roof of my temporary home, lulling me into a deep sleep I’ve only achieved on tropical vacations. My travel companions and I bounded into two 4-wheel drive vehicles and headed south along a pothole riddled road to the end of the Osa Peninsula, one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth.

Manuel greeted us at the gates to his compound, an open-air Cocina with a separate building for offices and research, surrounded by immense green space and backing up to rain forest as far as the eye could see. This did not look like a suitable home for sea turtles.

The Blue Osa crew was directed to choose from a bushel basket of rain boots, the purpose of which was somewhat lost on me since I was already completely soaked, head to toe, just from making my way from the car. Manuel said we would make a short hike along a muddy jungle path to get to the hatchlings waiting on us to set them free into the great Pacific.

This was not a leisurely stroll through the woods. We walked at a brisk pace, wading through rivers, tripping over enormous tree roots, and slipping in the mud as we went.

Finally, in harmony with the jungle sounds, the roar of the Pacific drew us near and motivated me onward through the unfamiliar territory.

When the forest cleared, churning waves pounded down aggressively in front of Osa Conservation’s hatchery.

Manuel took us through deep sand to the hatchery where we became mesmerized at the big life coming from the group of small creatures. It was otherworldly to reach down and touch the babies, the textures of their feet and shells connecting me to nature in a way I’d never been before.

They scuttled around the buckets we hauled down the beach toward the release area. Our emotions were running high at the task ahead.

Manuel indicated the proper spot and gave us guidelines for the release experience. The numbers were not in the little ones’ favor. Of our 250+ hatchlings only one or two were likely to survive due to the factors working against them. But we didn’t lose hope.

It was a mix of emotions as we pulled each little life from the large green containers and encouraged them down the wide stretch of beach toward the water, which calmed a bit in their good fortune.

The journey for them was short, but for me it had a long-lasting effect. Watching the babies get swept bravely into the sea inspired me. I was filled with joy to have participated in such a pivotal experience.

When I returned to Blue Osa that evening, I spent time on my yoga mat thinking how the impact the hatchlings had on me exceeded the impact I’d had on them–and how Osa Conservation’s efforts are impassioned and infectious.

My body might have been recovering from the hike–achy and blistered–but my soul was content. Rainforest hiking and nature preservation had never been in my immediate skill-set, yet I found a way to make a difference in the Osa.

About The Author

When photographer/writer Leah Wyman found herself in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, she left her job in the church world for the sanctuary that is Blue Osa. A classical singer, composer and conductor with a B.M. degree from Manhattan School of Music and further studies at the University of Oxford in England, Leah is finding inspiring new ways to use her voice–in harmony with howler monkeys, scarlet macaws and crashing ocean waves at blueosa.com.

Uncategorized

Making Waves – the difficulties of hermit crab field work

Submitted by: Rebecca Trinh

In Osa, beach field work is dictated by the behavior of the waves. Here, we are used to large waves, high tides, and strong rip currents that keep us out of the water, even on the hottest of days. But this past week, our shores were bombarded by monster waves that were truly impressive in their ability to restructure the beachscape. The ocean is a formidable force here, taunting you as you awkwardly trudge through the hot sand hunting for just the right hermit crab. You want nothing more than to cool off in the water. But you know better. Here, it is too dangerous to go in the water. But these new monster swells made the typical Osa waves look like puddle splashes. Fallen palm trees and logs that had littered the beach have since been completely washed away. The cliff along the tree line that distinctly marks the high tide line of the highest high tides in the area has been replaced by a gentle slope of sand. Where there once was a flowing river is now a small lagoon as the waves brought up more and more sand to fill in the beach. And where there once were hundreds of hermit crabs roaming the beach, there are now a few brave souls that venture out in the night.

These monster waves were not isolated to just Osa Peninsula or Costa Rica, but stretched from North to South America, causing damage to shorelines, coastal ecosystems, and beach front properties. But they also brought a bit of fun to some daring surfers who braved the large swells and strong rip currents for a chance to catch these ridiculously large waves. And though some found joy in surfing these uniquely large swells, the unexpected intrusion of churning water brought many complications for the local terrestrial hermit crab populations here in Osa.

National weather services all along the Pacific coast issued safety warnings concerning the impending sea state. The high surf was the result of long-period swells generated by a storm brewing southeast of New Zealand earlier in the week. The increased sea state also brought along strong rip currents. The swells raced across the Pacific at about 50 kilometers an hour, covering about 1,200 kilometers a day, finally stopping only when they broke along our shoreline.

In California, waves averaged about 3 meters, delighting local surfers, but brought dismay to property owners whose homes experienced minor flooding. At least 16 people were rescued due to the high waves. Cruise ships had to emergency dock and cut their voyages short to steer clear of dangerous waters. In Mexico, waves up to 4 meters were also recorded, leading to flooding and one fatality.   Two more fatalities were reported in Panama and Chile and one person remains missing in El Salvador due to the stormy seas.

In Costa Rica, the dangerous swells also caused an environmental catastrophe as a barge capsized within the Nicoya Gulf, spilling 180 tons of fertilizer into the coastal waters. Environmental workers and local law enforcement agencies have been working to quantify the effects of the spill and have warned the public to stay out of the water. Dead fish have been floating to the surface in association with the spill. Officials are concerned that the fertilizer could not only be toxic to some organisms, but could stimulate a harmful phytoplankton bloom, further altering the ecosystem.

Here in Osa, the swells brought the tides up into the jungle, washing over trails. They also washed away several of my field experiments for the hermit crabs. I arrived in Osa about two and a half months ago to study these hermit crabs in their native habitat. These terrestrial hermit crabs are unique in their ability to actively carve out the inside of the snail shells they use as their homes. To determine how, why, and the costs and benefits of such a laborious behavior, we devised several field and manipulative experiments to be carried out. Unfortunately, three of these field experiments have now been claimed by the sea and its monstrous waves. Nightly transects during low tides after the monster waves subsided showed how barren they left the beach. Hermit crabs that once littered the beach foraging for fallen coconuts, washed up detritus, and anything else they could find, were completely absent. A few large individual could be found deep in the mangroves and up above the water line in the trees. The waves not only washed away the existing experiments, but washed away and displaced full populations. But as frustrating as it is, having your experiments and organisms washed away, it was really interesting to be able to witness this anomalous event and be able to document its impact on the local ecosystem.

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Sea Turtle Hatchery

Submitted by: Manuel Sánchez Mendoza, Sea Turtle Program Coordinator

This is the time of year that we begin the construction of a new sea turtle hatchery, with means removing plants and cleaning and filtering the sand where the eggs will be relocated will be part of our daily activities over the next several weeks and we prepare a new place for the nests that need to be relocated. Last year, we had help from many people in this big and important project, including help from volunteers, research assistants, high schools, universities and the local community.

The past year, we were able to relocate hundreds of nests that were located in high-risk zones and areas with high predation rates or large fluctuations in the water level of the rivers and tides. In the end, however, and thanks to the great effort, we were able to release 14,000 hatchlings!

We hope to have a year full of activity from the turtles and help from everyone in order to continue protecting the turtles that nest on the beaches of the Osa Peninsula.

Many thanks to everyone!!!