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The Greater Grison: a bit of a mystery in the Osa

Blog Post by Lesley Mould, DC Office Intern

Osa Conservation’s rainforest camera traps have been capturing some very exciting footage recently! One camera recorded a particularly remarkable video of a Greater Grison. Watching clips of the camera trap footage in the D.C. office motivated me to investigate some of the more unusual species that are native to the Osa, starting with the Greater Grison.

The Greater Grison is a member of the weasel family. It is native to South and Central America and inhabits forest and cerrado habitats. It is typically found near rivers or streams, and in elevations ranging from 500 to 2,000 meters. The Greater Grison population is actually doing very well, despite the fact that they are rarely seen in the wild. In fact, there is considerable debate in the scientific community over whether the Greater Grison is diurnal or nocturnal, which makes it all the more exciting that we got a video of one exploring the rainforest in the daylight!

Greater Grison

Photo by linnaeus1758

When the weasel-like carnivore is not hunting, it spends its time hidden away in dark and isolated spaces, such as hollowed out trees or abandoned animal burrows. It feeds on various vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, and small mammals. The grison has a particularly interesting hunting style. It begins by moving in a zig-zag pattern, stopping occasionally to lift its head and sniff the air. When it finally locates its prey, it gets very low to the ground and commences a series of grunts, which escalate to barks, and culminate in a single scream while fiercely baring its teeth. Once the grison catches its prey, it delivers a fatal bite to the back of the neck. Although the predators of the Greater Grison are not entirely known, they possess a distinct defense mechanism. When threatened, they will spray a yellow-green musk produced by its scent glands to thwart predators and mark its territory.

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Although they spend the majority of their time alone, grisons seek out multiple partners during breeding season in January and February. Females produce litters of two to four. Newborns weigh around 50 grams and are blind for the first three weeks of their lives, but grow quickly and reach full adult size in just four months. If you haven’t seen the video from our camera trap yet, check it out below:

 

 

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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.

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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.

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From the Field: Ríos Saludables Program Update

Blogpost written by Hilary Brumberg, Ríos Saludables Program Coordinator 

Hello fellow nature enthusiasts! My name is Hilary Brumberg, and I am the new coordinator of the Ríos Saludables (Healthy Rivers) program. I just graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut a few weeks ago with a degree in environmental science and Spanish, and I am a Princeton in Latin America fellow.

My day-to-day activities here in the Osa Peninsula are very different from those in urban Connecticut. Each morning, I crawl out of my bug net and emerge among the mango trees on our organic farm. I chat with my fellow research field assistants over breakfast about their projects, ranging from releasing baby sea turtles to setting dung beetle traps.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saludables

Photo by Sawyer Judge, team testing water quality for Ríos Saudables

Here in Osa, no two days are the same. I just finished June water quality testing at our community sites. This includes traveling around the peninsula, meeting dedicated conservationists and families who are curious about the effects of agriculture and roads on their neighborhood water source. The testing has allowed me to meet many friendly faces, including the manager of a farmers’ co-op, a town director of ecotourism, watershed managers, gardeners at an eco-lodge, and families concerned about the cleanliness of the rivers where their kids swim.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Hilary and Cole test nitrate levels at Rio Corozales with the Ríos Saludables program

To study the river water quality, we examine both what is dissolved in the water (chemistry) and what is alive in the water (biology). We survey the rivers for our mighty mini-beasts, or macroinvertebrates, whose presence indicate the health of the river because they are sensitive to pollution. While chemical monitoring provides a “snapshot” of the water quality at the time of sampling, macroinvertebrates tell a story about what is happening in the stream over a period of time. Results of the chemical tests and macroinvertebrate surveys indicate that human land use negatively affects the water health.

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

Photo by Sawyer Judge, Nelson collects leaf litter at Rio Carbonera to look for macroinvertebrates

I am designing a study to look at the effects of oil palm and teak tree farming on river health. Eventually, I plan to expand the study to examine how these processes affect important mangrove ecosystems. I am excited to spend the coming months exploring new rivers and ecosystems around the Osa Peninsula!

For those, such as myself, who love field research, data analysis, environmental education, speaking Spanish, looking for bugs, and splashing in rivers with kids, the Ríos Saludables is a perfect opportunity.

Birds

A Breathtaking Birding Experience

Blogpost written by Patrick Newcombe, Conservation Visitor 

When I first arrived in the Osa for my birding experience, the tremendous diversity of birds astounded me. I seemed to spot a new species each time I walk into the forest around Osa Conservation’s biological station.  Even at the station itself, I saw such birds as the Fiery-billed Aracari, an endemic species in both Panama and Costa Rica. The species diversity stems, in large part, from the selective pressure insectivorous birds put on their prey. This causes insects to adapt in order to evade their avian predators. In turn, the bird predators must specialize alongside their prey to catch the insects.

 

 

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Black-cheeked Ant Tanager is one of these insectivorous birds and is only found in the Osa Peninsula! Its population numbers fewer than 15,000 individuals. I found Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers at four different locations in the area and spent hours noting their presence in mixed species flocks and observing their fascinating behavior.

 

Photo by Patrick Newcombe

Black-Cheeked Ant Tanager / Photo by Patrick Newcombe

 

 

I also studied Manakin distribution around Osa Conservation by birding the surrounding trails and recording their presence in a GPS. I was thrilled to find 21 unique locations and view at least 5 leks. A lek is when birds perform elaborate mating displays. Red-capped Manakins tended to be concentrated in primary forest either near the border of secondary forest or in a clearing from tree falls, which create patches of secondary growth.

 

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

 

Another highlight from my time here was helping to conduct point counts of birds in areas that will be reforested with different concentrations of the fast-growing balsa tree, an experiment that tests the efficacy of this idea for reforestation. Learning the methodology for conducting point counts, as well as understanding the reason for using them in grasslands, fascinated me. These counts reflected the Osa’s enormous avian diversity, and I am glad that I contributed to such an important project that could help the birds that I am so passionate about.

Birding in the Osa was a unique experience that allowed me to learn about and contribute to avian diversity.

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Coral restoration, citizen science and partners in the Osa

Blogpost by Sawyer Judge

“Was your coral scouting successful?” I hear a lovely British accent come calling from the stairs. Two dogs come bounding down the stairs to the beach as Harvey is helping us out of the boat. The owner of the accent, Susan, makes her way towards us. “How was the boat ride, loves? Come refresh with some juice in the kitchen. It’s cas juice! Fresh made!”

There are six of us visiting the Saladero EcoLodge that Harvey and Susan call home. Harvey and Susan are long-time partners of Osa Conservation, and they’re housing us for a night while we look for sites for the new coral restoration project that our Citizen Science Director, Luis Vargas, is directing. RFA and photographer Eleanor Flatt and I, a donor-retention and administration intern, are accompanying him to document the project. Also with us are members of the National Institute of Learning (INA) – a project partner. We’ve just finished with the work of scouting out some good sites for the project. Harvey is very knowledgeable of the area, and it turns out that the best place to install an underwater coral nursery may actually be right off the coast of Saladero itself!

Picture of the scenery around Saladero EcoLodge

Picture of the scenery around Saladero EcoLodge

We’re glad the coral restoration will take place at Saladero for a number of reasons. The property is nestled in the lush, bay-side rain forest around Golfo Dulce, and it’s a picture perfect example of how conservation and ecotourism live in harmony. Over a pleasant lunch of open-faced tortilla pill-ups, garnished with Harvey’s home-made hot sauce, I learn a little more about the scope of their work.

Some coral found in Golfo Dulce

Some coral found in Golfo Dulce

When Harvey decided that his homeland of Florida wasn’t hot enough for his liking, he and Susan purchased the 480 acres of lowland tropical forest where Saladero rests. They’ve conserved not only the surrounding bay, but enough primary forest for three extensive trails and a mangrove system. Saladero acts as a base for ecotourists, birdwatchers, researchers, and the national park service when monitoring illegal poaching and fishing activity. Much of their conservation work, however, happens in conjunction with Osa Conservation. Camera traps on their trails aid in collecting data on big cats and other mammals as part of our Biological Monitoring Program, and Harvey and Susan conduct quarterly samples of macro-invertebrates to monitor their river health for Rios Saludables. Now they’re excited to welcome our Marine Education and coral restoration efforts as well.

After lunch, Harvey gives us a tour of the property. His background is in carpentry, so the functionality and design of the space is very important. Saladero has everything from a space for students to set up tents and cook outdoors to up-most accommodation for “glamping.” Harvey even got the permits to build some of it himself. The property runs on hydro-electric and solar-electric energy systems. They even have a solar-heated shower. In addition to the facilities themselves, the botanical and agricultural projects they run are impressive to say the least. Walking through the grounds, we help ourselves to the delicious fruits of overflowing mimon and mangosteen trees. We smell the blossoms of the Ylang-ylang tree, the oil of which perfumes Channel No. 5, and we learn about the incredible medicinal properties of the bitter ash tree. Harvey and Susan strive to cook with the ingredients they grow. They even ferment their pineapple into a lovely vinegar, and sometimes make their own chocolate.

Sunset seen from Saladero EcoLodge

Sunset seen from Saladero EcoLodge

After the tour, Eleanor and I borrow paddle boards from the shack and enjoy the sunset, floating on the calm sea. Like magic, we saw sting rays jump from the water and even a group of dolphins before we head back to shore for dinner. Dinner is wood-fired pizza – Harvey’s specialty since he built the wood-fired oven 6 years ago – and traditional coconut ice cream. Susan explains that they often try to incorporate local custom into nature education and experience at Saladero, and their employees contribute a lot to the customs Saladero adopts. “We’re a family here,” says Susan, her eyes sparkling through her purple, wide-rimmed glasses.

Osa Conservation is lucky to have partners like Harvey and Susan at Saladero. Their hospitality extends not only to visitors, but to our conservation programs. They’re hosts for humans and nature alike, and experts at conserving a little piece of paradise.

Marine Conservation, Sea Turtles

Building a Sea Turtle Hatchery

Blogpost written by Marina Garrido, Sea Turtle Volunteer

As a sea turtle volunteer, I have spent the last few weeks here in the Osa constructing the turtle hatchery for the upcoming nesting season. Each year, the hatchery is moved to a new location along the beach in order to relocate nests in an area with “clean” sand which was not used in the previous nesting season.  The process is long and tough and requires many hours and many hands, but the end product is so rewarding that the work is well worth it.

We begin the project by moving barriers from the old hatchery to the site of the new one. The barriers are made of bamboo, which protects the hatchery and the nests inside from the large high tide waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, group builds up the outer walls of the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, volunteers help build the outer walls of the hatchery

Next we begin the important step of sifting the sand one meter down (about the depth of a sea turtle nest). This step is important for removing debris and obstacles from the sand where new nests will be relocated. Sifting of the sand is the longest, most labor intensive, process in the creation of a new hatchery. Once all of the sand has been sifted and placed in the new hatchery location, it is time to make the surface flat and compact again.

The next step is to fill hundreds of sacs with sand in order to reinforce the outer barrier of the hatchery fence, which provides protection of the sea turtle nests against predators. Predators of sea turtle nests include dogs,  coatis, vultures and more.

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Sandbags line the outside of the hatchery for reinforcement

 

We then build the structure using newly cut recycled bamboo and cover it with nets to further protect it from predators. The final step is to section off the inside of the hatchery into a grid system which allows us to identify every nest inside. These codes from the grid system make it easier for us to track and predict when the nests will hatch.

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Closing up sandbags to keep the structure sturdy

As you can see, building and maintaining the hatchery each season is hard work. Thankfully, we have the help of volunteers and school groups that come to help move the process along. It is fun work done along a beautiful beach! Not to mention, we get fresh coconut water during our breaks!

 

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa to build the hatchery

Photo by Manuel Sanchez, Group from Colegio Puerto Jimenez joins Osa Conservation to build the hatchery

 

Special thanks to Colegio Puerto Jimenez for their help in building the hatchery. To learn more about how you can get involved with our Sea Turtle Volunteer Program, please check out this link below:

Saving Sea Turtles

Marine Conservation

This Halloween’s Coolest Claws: Halloween Crabs

Why the name?

Vibrant, showy, and brilliantly bold, Halloween Crabs are named, and famed, for their colorful costumes. They have a dark brown uppercase that is often confused for black, a bright orange body and purple claws and limbs. Their eyes are a vibrant yellow, complemented by two white spots at the rear part of their carapace. Many people are taken with the crabs’ appearance and choose to make these lively creatures their pets. They are amazingly easy to handle and care for. Proper enclosure and careful measures of temperature and humidity will keep these crabs living a happy lifespan of up to ten years!halloween-crab-forblog

What are Halloween Crabs?

Crabs are unique species that can be found throughout the world’s tropical and semi-tropical regions. There are three principal groups distinguished by habitat: freshwater, semi-terrestrial and terrestrial (land).  Halloween Crabs are land crabs belonging to the Gecarcinidae family. Although they lead a terrestrial existence, at some time during adulthood, the crabs visit the sea for reproduction.

Distribution:

Halloween Crabs are found along river banks, mangroves, and rainforests from the Gulf of California in Mexico as far south as Colombia. Humid habitats like these provide the water sources the crabs depend on to prevent lung desiccation. As more water becomes available towards the interior of a country, the more common it is to find these crabs significantly away from the coast. For example, in Southern Costa Rica, the crab can be found up to 600 meters inland.halloween-crab-forblog2

The unique diet and behavior of Halloween Crabs is fitting of the name. Largely nocturnal, the crabs spend their nights climbing trees and burrowing in underground holes. These holes function mainly as the crabs’ store houses. The leaves and seeds of the next day’s meal are hoarded away to be kept safe and dry for these hungry Halloween crabs. While the crabs are mainly herbivorous, they can also eat fish, insects, worms, apples and other fruits and animals.

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Sea Turtle Conservation – It Just Takes One

There is an often cited estimate that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles that hatch and make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood. With odds like that one can sometimes feel like the work is futile and has little impact. As Olivia points out in her blog this week – it just takes is one brush with success to remind us that every individual counts.

By: Olivia

Upon arriving to Osa to start my position as a Research Field Assistant (RFA), I was so excited to start a new life that involved working in my field of study and a new place to call home. To say each category has surpassed my expectations within the time I have been here would be only an understatement.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.23 PMComing from Canada, life in Costa Rica was going to be a massive change for me, however one that I was going to greet with open arms. I had my final exam for my Biology Degree at the end of April, and not two days later I was on a plane headed for my new life abroad. I finished University knowing I wanted to enter the field of conservation straight away, and am willingly missing my own graduation to do so.

Ever since I arrived for my first day on the job, I have been working and learning collectively with my fellow Research Field Assistant and Program Coordinator Manuel Sanchez Mendoza. Beach patrols are done everyday, at morning or at night, and our job as Sea Turtle RFAs involves monitoring the beach for sea turtle nesting activity. Our job is to record data on turtle observations from both our beaches, Playa Piro and Playa Pejeperro. On my second day and first patrol on our longer beach Pejeperro, Manuel and I found a group of green turtle hatchlings and I was ultimately able to help them reach the ocean.

I’ve come to realize that as unpredictable as the nesting turtles are, their hatchlings are just as much so. Only last week, I was taking a walk along Pejeperro in the mid-afternoonScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.34 PM and felt something brush against my foot. Looking down, I watched an Olive Ridley hatchling crawl along the top of my foot and shuffle as quickly as it could to the ocean – asymmetrically of course. Looking up along the sloping sand, I saw many siblings following behind. That afternoon, I was able to help around thirty hatchlings reach the ocean and avoid the majority of the scorching sun. After spending most of my time trying to save predated nests and rescue as many eggs as possible, it was incredibly rewarding to see what exactly I’ve dedicated my work here towards with the oddest timing.

We just finished building our sea turtle hatchery where we relocate nests in danger of being washed away by the river or of predation. The eggs from these nests are placed carefully in our nursery to ensure safety and healthy growth. Once the babies are ready to leave, we will release them early in the morning to avoid the day’s heat and many predators. This week we have been working diligently to finish the construction and hopefully in a couple days we shall be placing our first nest in the hScreen Shot 2016-06-17 at 7.56.41 PMatchery. The nursery has had major success over the past two years with over 20,000 baby turtles released last year, and I cannot wait to see how many hatchlings we will have this year.

Entering the field of conservation, especially sea turtle conservation, I knew the difficulty of working against so many factors and having such little chance of rewarding results in the short term. I spent some time questioning how much of a difference one person can make in conservation with so many oppositions. All of that changed though, and all it took was one baby turtle crawling over my foot!